Indonesian Navy Sends Ship to Tail Chinese Survey Vessel, Data Show

BenarNews staff
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Indonesian Navy Sends Ship to Tail Chinese Survey Vessel, Data Show The Indonesian Navy patrol boat KRI Bontang (907) is pictured at a naval base in Banyuwangi, East Java, on April 26, 2021.

Indonesia has dispatched one of its naval ships close to a Chinese survey vessel that is operating in its exclusive economic zone, BenarNews has learned.

The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson passed as close as 50 nautical miles to the same Chinese vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 10, on Saturday, and broadcast its location as it did so during a sail through the southern part of the South China Sea.

On Monday, the Indonesian Navy deployed the KRI Bontang (907) to the same area, ship tracking records show, suggesting it was closely following the Chinese ship’s movements near an important oil and gas field. Both ships were still in the area on Wednesday.

The Haiyang Dizhi has been operating there since late August, about 90 nautical miles north of Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.

The Indonesian Navy and the Maritime Security Agency, also known as Bakamla, could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday but the tracking records analyzed by BenarNews show the Indonesian ship has been tailing the Haiyang Dizhi 10, and was at one point just 1.7 nautical miles away from the Chinese ship.


The KRI Bontang (907) is essentially a replenishment-at-sea tanker but is equipped with weapon systems including cannons and machine guns.

The choice of the supply ship may be intentional, says Sunaryo, a maritime affairs expert at the University of Indonesia.

“We are facing a dilemma. If we deploy warships, it will be seen as aggressive, but (the non-military) Bakamla doesn’t have many large ships,” he said.

Flexible but firm

On Tuesday, a Bakamla spokesman when asked told BenarNews that “there had been no violation of shipping rules” by the Haiyang Dizhi.

Wisnu Pramandita said the Chinese survey ship “had its AIS [automatic identification system] on and could be monitored.”

“It was probably a normal passage,” he said.

The seemingly evasive reply is “not unexpected,” says Richard Heydarian, a regional affairs analyst. “Indonesia, and some other countries in the region, have been leading a flexible approach when dealing with China.”

“They prioritize diplomatic tools and avoid confrontational language in order to not jeopardize the relationship with China, but also try to be firm when needed to protect national interests,” Heydarian said.

The same approach was witnessed in January 2020 when Indonesia’s strong but restrained and diplomatic response helped repel dozens of Chinese ships fishing illegally in the same North Natuna area, according to Heydarian.

However, Indonesia may be facing a greater challenge this time.

Apart from the survey ship, the Kompas newspaper quoted local fishermen as saying that they sighted at least six Chinese ships, including a 7,500-ton destroyer – the Kunming (172) – in the North Natuna Sea on Monday.

A regular presence

Bakamla official Suprianto Irawan was quoted in Indonesian media as saying that there has been a regular presence of Chinese coast guard ships around the Tuna Block, an important oil and gas field in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where the Haiyang Dizhi 10 is operating.

Although Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the northern part of the Natuna Sea overlaps with the “nine-dash line” that China uses to demarcate its sweeping claims in the South China Sea – a position not recognized by international law.

Ship tracking data shows that the Chinese ship has been conducting a survey since Aug. 31 near the semi-submersible oil rig Noble Clyde Boudreaux, which was commissioned to drill two wells there until mid-November, according to industry sources.

The Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 10 is seen on a visit to Pakistan for hydrocarbon research and geological mapping in February 2019. [Pakistan Navy]

Chinese ships have been accused of harassing neighboring countries’ oil exploration activities, but Beijing insists they are operating within China’s jurisdiction.

The Indonesian government has been under immense domestic pressure to protect national interests.

“As an archipelagic state, we have designated sea lanes for continuous passage of foreign ships, but we must not take our EEZ for granted. If we don’t do anything, our claims could be undermined,” warned maritime expert Sunaryo from the University of Indonesia.

“This is happening in the Natuna with foreign ships in our EEZ. Some parties are taking advantage of lax security there.”

A country’s EEZ extends 200 nautical miles beyond its coastlines and provides it certain resource rights to the waters there – hence the sensitivity of a foreign nation conducting a survey in such an area.

But Bakamla officials have been saying that they have limited resources and are poorly equipped with just 10 ships and no aircraft.

Ahmad Syamsudin in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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