Navy vessels accidentally enter Indonesian waters

REVELATIONS of multiple instances of at least one Australian vessel entering Indonesia's waters during Operation Sovereign Borders will heighten already strained diplomatic tensions.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Friday revealed multiple instances over more than one day where Navy vessels have mistakenly entered Indonesian waters.

The incidents breached Australia's own policy and may also potentially breach the International Law of the Sea.

While Mr Morrison apologised "unreservedly" to Indonesia for the problems, Australian National University research fellow Dr Andrew Carr said it would add to tensions between the nations.

Dr Carr said the incidents, although likely to be seen as an inadvertent mistake, showed it was "inevitable that this will happen and probably has happened in the past".

He said it was latest in a string of problems straining Australia's relations with its most important partner, after the live cattle export ban, spying scandals and a series of problems related to people smuggling.

"This is a practice we know the Indonesians are not happy with, but they are not saying so in public at the moment, suggesting some kind of background communication is happening," Dr Carr said.

He said while Indonesia may recognise it was a mistake, it would feed populist fears in the country that Australia did not respect Indonesia as a country.

"A lot rests on the populist perception of these issues - if Australia loses the respect of Indonesia, it makes that wore, and it makes it harder for leader to take those bold decisions in the interests of both nations," Dr Carr.

He said there was also a risk the government's strategy of not releasing what Mr Morrison calls "operational details", could backfire - leading people smugglers to lie to potential travellers that the government was doing nothing.

"Perversely by trying to keep quiet about this, issues that the govt is not even talking about, you're making it more likely that people might come," he said.

Mr Morrison and OSB Commander General Angus Campbell on Friday confirmed they found out about the incidents on Wednesday afternoon, but would not confirm specifics.

Gen Campbell said he could confirm there were multiple breaches, first saying there was a "passage of vessels" through Indonesian water, but later refuting the comment, saying only that "vessel or vessels" had crossed the border.

Mr Morrison said the government has sent an informal apology to Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Marty Natalegawa, and his counterpart Julie Bishop would be contacting him directly to apologise.

The revelations came only two days after Mr Morrison said there would not be any instances of Australian "assets" entering Indonesian waters.

He said on Friday it would not happen again, but could not say how the government would actively prevent such actions.

Gen Campbell said the issue was referred to the heads of the Defence Force and Customs for an internal investigation.

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