Indonesian Navy deployed warship to North Natuna Sea to monitor a Chinese coast guard vessel that has been active in a resource-rich maritime area of an area that both countries claim as their own. Ship tracking data shows the vessel, Zhaotou-class patrol cutter CCG 5901, has been sailing in the Natuna Sea, particularly near the Tuna Bloc gas field and the Vietnamese Chim Sao oil and gas field since December 30. The Indonesian news magazine Tempo reported that warship, maritime patrol aircraft and drone had been deployed to monitor the vessel, Laksamana Muhammad Ali, the chief of the Indonesian navy, told Reuters.
The Chinese coast guard activity comes after an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) agreement between Indonesia and Vietnam, and approval from Indonesia to develop the Tuna gas field in the Natuna Sea, with a total estimated investment of more than $3 billion upto the start of production. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) gives vessels navigation rights through an EEZ. China rejects this, saying the maritime area is within its expansive territorial claim in the South China Sea marked by a U-shaped “nine-dash line,” a boundary the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague found to have no legal basis in 2016.
In July 2017, Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the “North Natuna Sea”, which is located north of the Indonesian Natuna Regency, bordering southern Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. The North Natuna Sea is located between the Natuna Islands and Cape Cà Mau on the southern tip of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. In 2021, vessels from Indonesia and China shadowed each other for months near a submersible oil rig that had been performing well appraisals in the Tuna block. Natural gas from the Tuna field is planned to be exported to Vietnam starting 2026 and may bring an income of US$ 1.24 billion a year.
The Zhaotou-class patrol cutter CCG 5901 is the world’s largest coast guard vessel,surpassing the previous record holder, the Japanese Coast Guard Shikishima class. The Zhaotou class is 165 metres (541 ft 4 in) in length, over 20 metres (65 ft 7 in) in beam, and has an empty displacement of 10,000 tons, with a full displacement of 12,000 tons. The Zhaotou class is armed with an H/PJ-26 76 mm naval gun, two 30 mm auxiliary guns, and two anti-aircraft machine guns. The ships can travel a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) and a range of over 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km; 12,000 mi). The ship has a helicopter platform and a hangar large enough to accommodate larger helicopter.