The Indonesian patrol vessel blocked the Chinese research vessel in Sunda Strait

A Chinese research vessel has been identified in the waters of Indonesia with its tracking system turned off, authorities said on Thursday, amid concerns in the region about Beijing’s maritime conduct.
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Indonesia's Pulau Nipah 321 vessel. (Photo: Jakarta Post)

Last week, Indonesia's Maritime Security Agency (Baklama) intercepted a Chinese research vessel running without AIS in the strategic Sunda Strait. Colonel Wisnu Pramandita, spokesman of Indonesia’s maritime security agency, known as Bakamla, in a statement said authorities suspected the vessel was conducting unauthorized activities in the Sunda Strait after its automatic identification system (AIS) had been switched off three times.

“[Patrol vessel] KN Pulau Nipah 321 intercepted Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03 on Wednesday evening at about 8 p.m. while it was passing through the Sunda Strait,” said Bakamla spokesman Col. Wisnu Pramandita. According to Col. Pramandita, the vessel's AIS was not broadcasting during three intervals as she transited through Indonesian waters. No boarding was conducted, but in a radio exchange, the crew of the Xiang Yang Hong claimed that their AIS was malfunctioning, Maritime Executive cited.

Indonesian security officials have closely watched activities of Chinese vessels around the archipelago, amid wider tensions in the region and concern about Beijing’s militarisation and the conduct of its coastguard and fishing fleet. The incident follows the recent discovery of an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) by a local fisherman off Indonesia’s Sulawesi island last month, sparking concern about a potential security breach.

Analysts said the AUV may have been made in China. The navy is still investigating its origins. It was not immediately clear if there was a connection between the research vessel and the AUV, Bakamla’s spokesman told Reuters. The Xiang Yang Hong 03 during radio communication told Indonesia authorities it's AIS had malfunctioned, Bakamla said.

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Indonesian security officials have closely watched the activities of Chinese vessels around the archipelago. (Photo: Jakarta Post)

The Chinese embassy in Jakarta was not immediately available for comment on the vessel, while a spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry said he was not aware of permission being granted for any maritime research activities. The Indonesian archipelago straddles strategically important sea lanes used for trade, with its waters also home to rich fishing grounds and important energy reserves, said Reuters.

AIS data shows that the Xiang Yang Hong left China's Hainan Island on January 6. Her AIS was received only intermittently as she headed southwards through the South China Sea and the Java Sea, according to tracking provided by Pole Star. As of January 18, the Xiang Yang Hong was underway again in the Indian Ocean, broadcasting restricted maneuverability and moving ahead at a slow bell.

The run-in occurs as the Indonesian Navy investigates the origins of an unmarked autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) found at Selayar Island, South Sulawesi in late December. Selayar is located near the southern entrance of the strategic Makassar Strait, one of the alternatives to the Strait of Malacca.

The drone - a seven-foot aluminum tube with a three-foot trailing antenna - was discovered by a fisherman on the morning of December 26. He reported it to local officials, who transferred it to the Indonesian Navy's hydrography and oceanography division in Jakarta.

Analysts suggest that the device bears a strong resemblance to the Chinese Academy of Science's Sea Wing (Haiyi) research glider. It is believed to be the third unit of its kind found in Indonesian waters, though the first widely publicized.

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