Indonesian shipping agency hails successful Natuna drilling
JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post / Asia News Network): The Maritime Safety Agency (Bakamla) hailed the completion last month of a six-month drilling project on the Indonesian continental shelf in the northern Natuna Sea as a “victory” over China’s constant objections.
Over the past two years, Chinese interventions via a “gray hull” naval approach and diplomatic threats have become increasingly common around the Natuna Islands.
The Archipelagic Regency and surrounding waters are located between the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo in the southern South China Sea, one of the most contested bodies of water in the world.
China has illegally claimed ownership of the sea as well as part of Indonesia’s territorial waters and seabed, over which the country has the right to conduct economic activities such as oil and gas exploration and the peach.
This included contractual activities with foreign companies, such as the independent British company Harbor Energy and the Russian state-owned company Zarubezhneft, which operated offshore wells in the Indonesian regency.
The island chain was constantly in the custody of the Indonesian Navy and Bakamla, which basically functions as the National Coast Guard. Natural gas appraisal two-well drilling activity on the Tuna Block began in June and was completed at the end of November.
Bakamla’s Vice-Admiral-in-Chief, Aan Kurnia, said Indonesian patrol boats have on occasion been found hidden by Chinese Coast Guard vessels 4-5 nautical miles from the drilling site. But after drilling was completed last month, he said Indonesia had “scored a point.”
Aan added that the agency would continue to uphold the nation’s territorial rights and report any disagreements to the office of the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs as well as the Foreign Ministry.
“The point is that they [Chinese vessels] did not physically disturb us and the drilling was finished, ”Aan told reporters on Wednesday (December 22) during a year-end review of the agency’s work.
Following the successful completion of the appraisal drilling, Harbor Energy is looking to finalize its investment to develop the Tuna Block in 2023 with initial production slated for 2026, according to the industry publication Energy Voice.
Drilling continued despite the movement of the Chinese research vessel Haiyang Dizhi-10 in the region between August and October, which caught the attention of NGOs like the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI).
Jakarta and Beijing have reciprocally summoned their emissaries over the past two years, mostly discreetly, to protest against activities in Natuna’s waters.
In some cases, bilateral tensions have erupted over hostile engagements at sea, underscoring Asean’s insistence on the need for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
The North Natuna Sea sits along the southern edge of the hotly contested body of water, over which a handful of Southeast Asian countries have overlapping claims with China, most notably Malaysia, the Vietnam and the Philippines.
Beijing has made sweeping claims over the South China Sea, which an international tribunal struck down in 2016.
Indonesia is not a claimant in the dispute, but China has insisted it has a claim in “relevant waters,” a term that was rejected for its inconsistency with the United Nations Convention on 1982 Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Eddy Pratomo, professor of international law at Diponegoro University, said Indonesia takes a much stronger legal stand that allows it to ignore China’s repeated protests that the drilling site is encroaching on the line. with nine indents supporting its claims.
“With the completion of the drilling, China’s protests are now completely irrelevant because the target has been met,” Eddy told the Jakarta Post.
Bakamla chief Aan said he invited his counterparts from five ASEAN countries to a meeting in February 2022 in Batam, Riau Islands province, to “share experiences and foster brotherhood” between countries facing similar challenges in the context of China’s claims.
He said it was important to present a coordinated approach to such incidents, especially following reports of the presence of Chinese maritime militias in claimants’ waters in the South China Sea.
China has reportedly halted similar drilling projects in Malaysian and Vietnamese waters this year.
Indonesia has invited Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam to meet next year as part of the ASEAN Coast Guard Forum, which met virtually in October.
“We will share experiences of how to react on the ground when we face the same ‘disruption’,” he said, not citing China by name.
The Chinese Embassy in Jakarta was not immediately available for comment.