Jakarta, IO – Despite its rolling hills and mountains, Papua – the Land of Cendrawasih – is blessed with a number of ports. Along its coastlines, ports with impressive performance, such as Jayapura Port in Papua Province and Sorong Port – which has become part of Southwest Papua after regional proliferation – decorate the region. I once had an opportunity to take a glimpse at the two ports, experiencing the hustle and bustle there.
Let us start with Jayapura Port. Data from Jayapura Container Terminal (TPK Jayapura) management reveals that, as of August 2023, throughput or total loading and unloading has reached 51,713 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). This figure is lower than that of August 2022, which was 62,007 TEU. By the end of this year, the container flow performance is targeted to reach 98,294 TEU. According to TPK Jayapura Operations Manager Jems Yeffry Fonataba, the decline was caused by a decrease in the consumption and purchasing power of people in Papua.
Containers handled at TPK Jayapura will later be distributed to at least 14 regencies and one city in Papua, whose supplies of food and materials rely on TPK Jayapura; these include Jayapura City, Jayapura Regency, Keerom Regency, Sarmi, Membramo Raya, Central Membramo, Jayawijaya, Lanny Jaya, Bintang Mountains, Puncak, Puncak Jaya, Tolikara, Yahukimo, Nduga and Yalima. Around 99 percent of the goods will be sent to those locations by plane, and the rest by land. This is the reason prices of goods outside Jayapura are inflated.
Now, let us check the facts about the Sorong Container Terminal (TPK Sorong), located in Sorong City, the capital of Southwest Papua Province. TPK Sorong’s performance is claimed to have been upgraded. According to Head of TPK Sorong Herryanto, container flow in 2021 totaled 55,000 TEU. Meanwhile, in 2022, it dropped to 46,000 TEU, and as of September this year, to 36,000 TEU. He argued that the service performance improved since PT Pelabuhan Indonesia (Pelindo) implemented a post-merger transformation, by applying port operational system standardization.
TPK Sorong used to be notorious for insufficient planning. Herryanto said once a ship was docked, the port workers would handle it as it was, with whatever equipment they had. When ships arrived, they would work, but when no ships docked, they would not work. Before the transformation was implemented in August 2022, the Box Ship per Hour (BSH) was only 17. However, as of August 2023, the speed has increased to 30 boxes per hour. The Box Crane per Hour (BCH) performance has also improved to 22 boxes per hour from only eight boxes. The berthing time/ port stay performance has also significantly picked up, from 72 hours or two days to only 24 hours or one day.
The contention for the hub status
The impressive performance of the two container terminals has sparked interest among TPK Jayapura and TPK Sorong stakeholders to turn them into a hub, in this case, for the South Pacific region. In an interview, Acting Mayor of Jayapura Frans Pekey expressed this intention while referring to the current condition of Jayapura Port, which has already functioned as a hub for the areas mentioned above.
A similar sentiment was expressed by the Head of Sorong Harbormaster and Port Authority, Jece Julita Piris, when meeting her at her office some time ago. She conveyed a similar reason, that Sorong Port has long been a hub for other regencies in the Land of Cendrawasih.
The pertinent question will be: Is the ambition reasonable? Ambition, in every sense of the word, is indeed well-founded. No one can or should prohibit others from having ambitions, including this writer. Nevertheless, the ambition to turn Jayapura and Sorong into a hub, especially for the South Pacific region, is undoubtedly rather excessive. First, various components are required, in addition to the presence of a terminal or port. Take, for example, shipping connectivity. The connectivity at Jayapura and Sorong Ports is limited to inter-island services. Neither port has connectivity with countries in the South Pacific. Also, they have no supporting facilities, such as insurance, banking, shipbuilding and others, which are, regrettably, still lacking in the Land of Cendrawasih.
Long story short, the idea of creating a hub on the Land of Cendrawasih is still a long way off. It cannot be realized in the near future, not even ten or twenty years from now. So, the Government or regulators are welcome to “battle” around the hub issue. Perhaps that could spark more energy and synergy between stakeholders. However, the urgency that the stakeholders must address is how to build industry in Papua since the ports mainly function to support regional economic activities, not as an agent of development as imagined.