Based on AIS, as many as 155 Vietnamese fishing vessels were observed operating within the overlapping EEZ claims of Indonesia and Vietnam in the North Natuna Sea in February 2023. IOJI predicts intrusion by Vietnamese vessels in the same area will increase in the coming months.
A total of 155 Vietnamese fishing vessels seen in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, February 2023.
Vietnamese fishing boat activity is rife in the North Natuna Sea. This activity has a strong potential to violate Indonesia’s sovereign rights in the North Natuna Sea and damage marine ecosystems and fish resources in the area.
A total of 155 Vietnamese fishing vessels operate in the Indonesia-Vietnam EEZ overlapping claims using pair trawls. Hundreds of these vessels caught fish north of the IndonesiaVietnam continental shelf line, some of which should have become Indonesia’s EEZ after the agreement on the EEZ boundary line between Indonesia and Vietnam in December 2022.
Since 2021, IOJI has continuously detected the activity of Vietnamese fishing vessels in the North Natuna Sea, both in the disputed area (the area of overlapping EEZ claims to the north of the Indonesian-Vietnam continental shelf boundary line) and in the non-disputed area (Zona Economic Indonesia exclusive to the south of the Indonesia-Vietnam continental shelf line). From these detections, IOJI found that the activities of Vietnamese fishing vessels in the two areas continued to increase from March to May.
“Referring to the detection data of the last two years (2021 and 2022) and detections from January to March 2023, it can be concluded that the number of Vietnamese fishing vessels in non-disputed areas increases every March to May,” wrote IOJI researchers in a recent analysis paper “ Detection and Analysis of Maritime Security Disturbances in Indonesian Waters and Jurisdiction Period January to March 2023”.
Figure 2. Trends in the presence of Vietnamese KIA in the non-disputed EEZ zone of Indonesia in the North Natuna Sea.
Fluctuations in the activity of fishing vessels at sea are closely related to the weather. Towards the end of the year until January or February of the following year, the weather tends to be bad which results in fishermen not going to sea.
Rarely Seen Chinese KIA
In the past two years, “IOJI’s detections did not indicate a significant threat from Chinese-flagged fishing vessels in Indonesia’s EEZ, especially in the North Natuna Sea,” said a statement by IOJI researchers.
In the past, many Chineseflagged fishing vessels that were part of the China Maritime Militia (CMM) were detected in the northeastern zone of the North Natuna Sea. IOJI detects that these ships are often escorted by the China Coast Guard. The Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) last responded to the Chinese-flagged KIA intrusion in 2019.
Instead of sending fishing vessels, China “began to deploy China Coast Guard and marine scientific research vessels more frequently operating in the North Natuna Sea.”
12 Years Passed
The North Natuna Sea is at the crossroads of regional disputed waters involving China and several Southeast Asian countries. The dispute eventually dragged the intervention of the United States (US).
According to President Jokowi’s statement, Indonesia and Vietnam agreed on the EEZ boundaries in the North Natuna Sea in December 2022. The agreement was reached 12 years after the start of negotiations on the EEZ boundaries between the two. However, Indonesia has not officially released the EEZ line according to the agreement. Official publications related to EEZ agreements are usually in the form of regional map sheets.
Referring to the absence of a map of the area, IOJI researchers in their analysis paper used the Indonesia-Vietnam continental shelf line and Indonesia’s EEZ unilateral claim boundaries as a reference for the study.
The Indonesia-Vietnam continental shelf boundary agreement was signed in Hanoi on 26 June 2003 by the foreign ministers of the two countries. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s unilateral EEZ claim limits refer to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS 1982.