Indonesia intercepted a Chinese survey vessel sailing near its islands with an onboard tracking system disabled, prompting the coast guard to escort the boat out of the country’s exclusive economic zone, officials said Thursday.
The Xiang Yang Hong 03 turned off its automatic identification system (AIS) three times while cruising the sea lanes of the Indonesian archipelago, with the captain later saying it was out of order, according to the Agency. Maritime Security (Bakamla).
“If they had been browsing continuously without engaging in suspicious activity, it would not have been an offence. But during this trip, their AIS was disabled and it aroused suspicion,” first friend Suwito, Bakamla’s operations manager, told reporters.
“We asked why the AIS was off and their response was that it was down. We let it through because the ship didn’t stop,” he said.
The incident came amid concerns over Beijing’s increased militarization in the disputed South China Sea, and as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi wrapped up a visit to Indonesia on Wednesday.
In Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would impose visa restrictions on Chinese state-owned company executives and members of the Chinese military and Communist Party deemed “responsible or complicit” in full-scale attack. the reclamation, construction or militarization of contested outposts in the South China Sea.
The restrictions would also apply to those related to “the PRC’s use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to prevent their access to offshore resources” in the waterway, Pompeo said.
Separately, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it was adding state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. to a blacklist of companies that “threaten U.S. national security” because CNOOC was “helping China to intimidate its neighbors in the South China Sea”. “, said the agency.
While Indonesia does not see itself as a party to territorial disputes over the South China Sea between several countries, Beijing claims historical rights to parts of the maritime region that overlap with Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ.
Indonesia has had several confrontations with China over allegations that Chinese fishing boats, escorted by Chinese Coast Guard vessels, were operating in its EEZ off the Natuna Islands.
Indonesia is the only archipelagic nation to have designated archipelagic sea lanes. All ships, including warships, have the right of innocent passage as long as they are in continuous and rapid transit and do not pose a threat to security.
But Indonesia requires all vessels passing through archipelagic waters – Indonesian and foreign – to activate their automatic identification systems and report any damage to these systems to a shore station.
Suwito said the intercepted Chinese vessel’s identification system was not activated for 13 hours while sailing in the North Natuna Sea, 34 hours in the South Natuna Sea and 5 hours in the Strait. from Karimata at an average speed of 10.9 knots.
A Bakamla patrol vessel was alerted to the Xiang Yang Hong 03 as it passed Sunda Strait around 2.30pm on Wednesday with its tracker on.
At the time, the Chinese ship was 40 nautical miles (about 45 miles) from a Bakamla ship that was on its way to join a search and rescue team searching for the wreckage of a Boeing 737. of Sriwijaya Air, which crashed into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff from Jakarta last Saturday.
Bakamla’s KN Nipah 321 approached the Chinese vessel and opened communications with its captain around 8 p.m.
Bakamla spokesman Wisnu Pramandita said the patrol team decided not to investigate the vessel further due to bad weather and escorted it out of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
However, Siswanto Rusdi, director of the National Maritime Institute (Namarin), described Bakamla’s action as “excessive”.
“Only if they stop and refuse to come out can Bakamla take immediate action. As long as there is no evidence that the vessel stopped or carried out activities in our EEZ, no violation has occurred,” Rusdi told BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with FRG.
“Any ship – merchant ship or warship – can cross our EEZ without having to report. This is standard practice in the world of shipping,” Rusdi said.
“We must not be too reactive, otherwise we will be accused of being paranoid by the international community.”
The intercepted Chinese ship did not violate Indonesian territory but may have stopped, said Beni Sukadis, a military observer at the Indonesian Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies.
“In Archipelagic Sea Lanes I, II and III, vessels of any type are allowed to pass, whether military, commercial or foreign, without notifying Indonesia. But they cannot stop,” said Beni told BenarNews.
“I suspect that the [Chinese] the ship had stopped, but it’s up to Bakamla to prove it.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, the Indonesian Coast Guard acquired 20 submachine guns for 10 of its patrol boats.
The weapons are 12.7mm cannons, but the Coast Guard has also received approval from the Ministry of Defense to purchase 30mm caliber machine guns, Bakamla spokesman Wisnu told BenarNews.
In June, the House of Representatives (DPR) Defense Committee gave Bakamla the go-ahead to purchase military-grade weapons to bolster Coast Guard surveillance of Indonesian waters.
Lawmaker Bobby Adhityo Rizaldi said at the time that Bakamla had only 10 patrol boats without a naval gun system, while Chinese coastguard vessels were equipped with weapons with a firing range of over 5 kilometers. (3.1 miles).
“Bakamla is only armed with light guns with a range of less than 1 kilometer, which of course is insufficient with the dynamics of the North Natuna sea,” Bobby said.
Beni, an Indonesian military observer, said Bakamla had too few ships to patrol Indonesia’s vast coastline, but this problem could be solved by good coordination with the navy.
“There should be discussions with the navy on different areas where Bakamla and the navy can operate. Currently, it is unclear who is in charge of which areas,” Beni said.
Last November, the Navy announced it would move its combat squad headquarters to the Natuna Islands to protect Jakarta’s territorial interests near the South China Sea, amid incursions into national waters by boats. Chinese and Vietnamese fishing.
Moving the combat force headquarters from Guspurla to the Natuna Range would allow it to respond more quickly to incidents at sea, compared to the current location of the headquarters in Jakarta, the navy said.
Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.