30 January 2023

In the North Natuna Sea, KIA Vietnam Moves Closer to the Outer Islands

Location of China Coast Guard ships in the North Natuna Sea in 2022

Towards the end of 2022 in the North Natuna Sea, a number of Vietnamese fishing boats were seen moving further south. As they approached Natuna, their presence was successfully recorded by Natuna fishermen to a distance of about 20 nautical miles from Laut Island, Indonesia’s outermost island in Natuna.

On 27 December 2022, IOJI received information from Natuna fishermen. According to fishermen’s confessions, they found six Vietnamese foreign fishing vessels (KIA) operating in the North Natuna Sea.

Located at the nearest 20 nautical miles or around 37 kilometers from Pulau Laut – one of the outermost islands north of Indonesia, KIA Vietnam operates in coordinates that are frequently detected by IOJI through Automatic Identification System (AIS) and satellite imagery.

Detection of illegal activities by foreign fishing vessels in Indonesia’s EEZ is part of IOJI’s analysis of maritime threats and IUU fishing which is released quarterly. In general, in the last quarter of 2022, maritime security disturbances detected in the North Natuna Sea and Arafura Sea in these waters are:

  1. Alleged illegal fishing activities in the North Natuna Sea by Vietnamese fishing vessels and in the Arafura Sea by Indonesian fishing vessels using squid fishing gear in the EEZ of Papua New Guinea.
  2. The presence of Vietnam Fisheries Resource Surveillance (VFRS) patrol boats along the Indonesia-Vietnam continental shelf line supports illegal fishing activities of Vietnamese fishing vessels.
  3. Movement of the China Coast Guard (CCG) 5901 on the northeast side of the North Natuna Sea. This ship is the largest coast guard ship in the world. The presence of this ship in the North Natuna Sea is the first time. China consistently patrols this area in order to assert the Nine Dash Line’s unilateral claims

Foreign Ships in the North Natuna Sea

The governments of Indonesia and Vietnam agreed on the boundaries of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in December 2022. Until now, the agreed EEZ delimitation lines have not been announced to the public.

Even so, IOJI still detects the presence of VFRS ships along the continental shelf lines of the two countries which should be included in the new EEZ agreement as Indonesia’s EEZ. IOJI also detected hundreds of Vietnamese KIAs still operating in this area.

Meanwhile, Chinese Coast Guard ships from 2022 to January 2023 were detected operating in the waters of the North Natuna Sea. These ships include CCG 5202, CCG 5403, CCG 2204, CCG 5402, CCG 5304 and CCG 5901.

With the Nine Dash Line’s unilateral claim, China is targeting oil and gas reserves in the North Natuna Sea by intensively presenting CCG vessels in the region.

On January 2, 2023, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources approved a Plan of Development (PoD) for the Tuna Block, an area in Indonesia’s EEZ near the Indonesian and Vietnamese continental shelf lines which has abundant oil and natural gas reserves.

Until now, production activities in the Tuna Block have not yet started. If these activities have been carried out, it has the potential to cause tension between Indonesia and China in the North Natuna Sea.

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