Indonesia Deploys Navy as 'the Monster' of China Haunts the Natuna Sea
China’s CCG 5901 is not called “The Monster” for nothing. It is the world’s largest coast guard vessel, with a displacement of 12,000 tonnes. By contrast, the Philippines’ flagship naval vessel BRP Jose Rizal, has a displacement of 2,600 tonnes. An imposing silhouette on any horizon, “The Monster” entered Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone or EEZ in late December 2022, and has remained in the area for weeks.
What is ‘The Monster’?
The CCG 5901 is one of a series of “mega-cutters” manufactured for China’s Coast Guard. Franz-Stefan Gady, Fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and a columnist for The Diplomat, wrote about his class of mega-cutters aka “The Monster” in 2017:
The China Coast Guard ship outsizes a the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser by about 50 percent, and is also bigger than an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer (e.g., the USS Lassen), which displaces around 9,700 tonnes. In addition, it also outclasses Japan’s 6,500-ton Shikishima-class coast guard cutters.
The prolonged presence of the Chinese vessel in the North Natuna Sea prompted the Indonesian government to deploy a warship, a maritime patrol plane, and a drone to shadow and monitor the movements of “The Monster.”
“The Chinese vessel has not conducted any suspicious activities. However, we need to monitor it as it has been in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for some time,” said Indonesian Navy chief Laksamana Madya Muhammad Ali in a Reuters report.
According to the Reuters report, the Chinese vessel came after Indonesia and Vietnam inked an agreement on the boundaries of their EEZ in the Natuna Sea. It is not the first time maritime tensions between China and Indonesia heated up. In 2021, Chinese and Indonesian vessels shadowed each other around a submersible oil rig installed by Indonesia in the Tuna Block Gas Field. The Tuna Block is in the Indonesian exclusive economic zone, 13 kilometers from the border of the Vietnamese marine economic zone.
The Natuna Sea lies farther west of the Philippines, and is a rich fishing ground with energy potential. Indonesia claims sovereign rights in this part of the sea under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS. China claims the South China Sea in its entirety, including the West Philippine Sea—a claim declared illegal in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In its decision, the court ruled that China’s encompassing Nine-Dash-Line over swathes of the ocean is illegal.