BY Ryan Swift on 13 Dec 2022

A planned auction of private island reserves in the Widi archipelago, Indonesia, is being held up

The sale of shares in a private island development in eastern Indonesia have been halted by the government, according to a report in Mongabay News.

PT Leadership Islands Indonesia (LII), based in Bali, has placed its ownership stake in the Widi Islands up for auction with Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions, which handles luxury properties. The Widi Islands are a sparsely inhabited archipelago in the North Maluku islands, about 100 nautical miles west of the Raja Ampat, a popular tourism and yachting destination.

LII’s plan was to develop the islands for investors wanting private residences with access to pristine tropical waters. Indonesian law does not allow private ownership of islands but shares in LII can be purchased by anyone.

A December 5 statement by Indonesia’s Marine and Fisheries Ministry said that PT LII had not yet obtained all required documentation to proceed with its planned auction.

“Based on the laws, the Widi Islands cluster cannot be owned by foreigners and is not for sale,” Mongabay quoted Victor Gustaaf Manoppo, the fisheries ministry’s director-general of marine spatial planning, as saying.

Local and international media have reported that Indonesian conservationists were alarmed at the prospect of the Widi Islands being sold off to private developers.

As of December 13, Sotheby’s is still listing the auction on its site. Sotheby’s describes the Widi Reserve as a coral atoll archipelago “boasting 100-plus uninhabited, pristine tropical islands fringed by 150 kilometres of powder white sand beaches, thriving coral reefs, and private, deep-sea nutrient-rich waters.”

The archipelago is home to rare and endangered species such as blue whales, whale sharks, 600 species of marine mammals and as-yet undiscovered species, set within a 315,000-hectare (3,500km2) Marine Protected Area. Sotheby’s says 10,000 hectares are available for “potential eco-conscious and gentle build-outs.”

Sotheby’s says that LII “has spent several years carefully master-planning, designing and licensing one of the most environmentally sensitive low density luxury resort and residency developments in the world.” Only one employee of LII, a former fitness instructor, can be found online. He is listed as a project estimator and analyst for LII. 

Mongabay reported that the military has also protested the development by sending soldiers to raise the Indonesian flag in the area and paint local houses red and white.

AsiaOne media reports that in 2015, the governments of North Maluku province and South Halmahera regency signed a memorandum of understanding with LII to develop eco-tourism in the Widi Islands. Those governments gave LII the right to manage the islands for 35 years, but due to a lack of funds, LII decided to auction off the land.

A Youtube video posted by LII five and a half years ago touts the development potential of the Widi Islands. Currently, there is no other website or online information available from LII. 

Indonesian news site Tempo quoted Minister of Home Affairs (Mendagri) Muhammad Tito Karnavian, a retired police general, as saying that the owner of PT LII was an Indonesian person living in Bali. Karnavian added that he hopes steps taken by LII do not violate existing laws, regarding capital ownership and development.

Read: The charms of Indonesia, a cruising paradise

Indonesia has sought to develop its tourism industry, particularly in the wake of Covid-19 travel restrictions. The country is already a well-known destination for boaters and yacht owners. The Raja Ampat, Cenderawasih Bay, and Spice Islands are on the global superyacht itinerary. Many of Indonesia’s best-known destinations are within the Coral Triangle, one of the most important marine life zones globally.