Unless you’re a leisure diver, sailor or in the fisheries and oil & gas business you’ve probably never heard of the Anambas and Natuna islands. These are two separate and distinct group of islands 200km apart in the South China Sea and part of Indonesia’s Riau Province. CNN covered Anambas very briefly in 2012 when it got listed as one of Asia’s Top 5 Tropical Island Paradises. The largest island of the two groups, Natuna Besar, is almost three times the size of Singapore.
Oil & gas industry
Natuna is better known for its oil and gas deposits. According to Offshore Technology the Natuna gas field, discovered in the 1970’s, is the biggest in Southeast Asia. And one of the world’s longest gas pipeline at 640km carries Natuna gas from the West Natuna sea to Singapore.
South China Sea disputes
With the potential for oil and gas extraction it’s not surprising countries surrounding the South China Sea have overlapping claims to the waters. China has muscled in on the Paracel and Spratly islands. So far, the Anambas and Natuna islands have been immune. Indonesia is well aware of the threat and starting to protect its Natuna interests.
Air access & development hurdles
According to The Jakarta Post there are overseas investors interested in Natuna but have been discouraged by the military operated airport on Natuna Besar. Procedures to get entry permits are confusing and bringing in materials incur additional costs.
To overcome this, the Natuna administration has allocated funds to build a civil terminal near the existing airport which starts operating in 2015.
Similarly, the Anambas island administration plans a commercial airport in Jemaja district to allow domestic-commercial flight access with gradual links to international flights.
“We are looking for the best format to develop this huge region. Step by step, we believe it is attainable. We believe that an airport is among the infrastructure that will further our area,” Anambas Deputy Regent Abdul Haris said.
Why Anambas & Natuna?
In the post ‘Asia’s Golden Triangle for emerging resort development‘ we mentioned these islands are at one apex of the triangle. The other two being south Vietnam and Sabah / Palawan. This triangle represents the area of greatest coverage within a 3-hour flight time from Asian capital and major cities.
However, if you only consider Anambas / Natuna you come to realize its essentially at the center of a 3-hour flight coverage of ASEAN (above map. large circle approximately 3.0 hour flight, small circle approximately 1.5 hours flight). It not only covers all of ASEAN but also parts of southern China as well.
Don’t you think being at the center of a 600 million community has some tourism advantages?