Indonesia says Chinese research vessel spotted in its waters with tracker off

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - A Chinese research vessel has been identified in the waters of Indonesia with its tracking system turned off, the authorities said on Thursday (Jan 14), amid concerns in the region about Beijing's maritime conduct.

Colonel Wisnu Pramandita, spokesman for Indonesia's maritime security agency, known as Bakamla, in a statement said the authorities suspected the vessel was conducting unauthorised activities in the Sunda Strait after its automatic identification system (AIS) was switched off three times.

The Xiang Yang Hong 03 exited Indonesia's exclusive economic zone late on Wednesday.

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 said.

The Xiang Yang Hong 03, during radio communication, told the Indonesia authorities its AIS had malfunctioned, Bakamla said.

The vessel was spotted during operations to recover the Sriwijaya Air jet that crashed into the Java Sea last Saturday with 62 people on board.

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.