Indonesia nod to access for Aust aircraft

Indonesia has given assurances that an agreement to give Australian aircraft rapid clearance to enter its airspace to assist in search and rescue operations will be in place by the end of the year.

The inter-government agreement will install a system that allows for the rapid clearance of Australian aircraft to operate in Indonesian territorial airspace and to land and refuel at suitable airfields when engaged in search and rescue activities.

Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith said on Wednesday that he would be "disappointed and surprised" if the agreement, which is based on an arrangement already in place between Indonesia and the United States, was not in place by the end of the year.

"Our challenge here are the multiple number of agencies," Mr Smith said.

The agreement is in response to a string of incidents involving asylum seeker boats sinking in waters between Indonesia and Australia, including as recently as last week when as many as 100 people are believed to have perished.

Just 55 survivors were found after their boat foundered in the Sunda Strait as it made its way to Christmas Island, prompting questions to be raised over the response of search and rescue agencies.

The Indonesian search and rescue agency, BASARNAS, did not begin an aerial search until more than six hours after a distress call was received by the Australian Maritime and Safety Authority.

It was almost 24 hours before the first survivors were pulled from the water.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to return to Jakarta in December to finalise the deal.

It comes after two days of high-level talks between Australian and Indonesian ministers in Jakarta.

Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said details such as costs and arrangements for the coordination of access still needed to be worked out.

"What has been discussed the development of a standard operating procedure for when an SOS signal is received," Mr Yusgiantoro said on Wednesday.

"All are rules needed under framework of SAR. Basically, it's about safety of human life.

"Because we have that precedent with the United States, then we can look at that and apply it to Australia."

The talks have resulted in a suite of measures aimed at boosting cooperation in search and rescue operations.

Under an agreement reached on Tuesday, Australia will provide Indonesia with satellite communication technology to improve its search and rescue capabilities.

BASARNAS will also be given access to ship tracking capabilities to enable it to enlist the help of merchant ships in the event of emergencies involving asylum seeker boats.

There will also be an exchange of personnel between BASARNAS and AMSA, and regular search and rescue forums.

Australia will provide an additional $4.42 million to fund the measures which are part of the $38.4 million Indonesia Transport Safety Assistance Package established in 2007.

The talks, and subsequent agreement, come in the wake of a spate of sinkings of asylum seeker boats.

More than 300 asylum seekers have drowned since December along the same route where the boat carrying 150 Afghan and Pakistani refugees sank last week.

LATEST BLOG POSTS