Beijing’s New Research Ship Expected To Explore ‘Contested’ Waters

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Credits: Cindy Shebley/ Pexels
  • Electric-powered vessels can operate for 60 days straight and will carry out scientific monitoring in ‘distant seas’, according to reports.
  • It is unclear when the ship will begin trials, but the launch came amid growing tensions in the contested waters of the South China Sea.
  • Survey ships play a major role in asserting China’s claims in disputes with Southeast Asian Neighbors.

China has reportedly launched a 3,000-tonne (3,307-ton) research and survey ship that is expected to be used in the South China Sea, where tensions have flared between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Beijing’s new research ship

The converted cargo ship, named Xiang Yang Hong 05, entered the water on Friday at a Wuhan shipyard owned by Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group, an affiliate of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, Changjiang Daily reported.

The ship’s conversion was commissioned by the South China Sea survey centre of the State Oceanic Administration.

The 85.6-metre (281-foot) electric-powered research vessel can operate for 60 days without resupply, according to the Wuhan-based newspaper.

Exploring contested waters

The report added that the ship would mostly be used for oceanographic surveys and monitoring of the marine environment, and its exploration and investigation capabilities would support China’s “comprehensive scientific research in distant seas”.

Yu Liangxiong, the ship’s designer, said the Xiang Yang Hong 05 was equipped with tools to do geological surveys of the ocean as well as systems for collecting samples, conducting high-resolution seismic surveys, gathering data on marine environments and analysing the survey data.

Growing tension in South China sea

It is unclear when the ship will begin trials, but the launch came amid growing tensions in the contested waters of the South China Sea.

Last week, Hanoi accused Beijing of sending a scientific research ship, the Xiang Yang Hong 10, along with several other Chinese vessels near Vietnamese oil platforms on Vanguard Bank, the westernmost reef in the resource-rich Spratly Islands, known in China as the Nanshas.

The Xiang Yang Hong 10’s presence has led to several confrontations between Chinese and Vietnamese ships in recent weeks.

Beijing said carrying out scientific research in areas under Chinese jurisdiction was “normal”, while Hanoi said the Chinese ship violated its sovereignty by patrolling within Vietnam’ s exclusive economic zone.

World’s largest oceanographic research fleets

As part of its ambitions to become a maritime power, China operates one of the world’s largest oceanographic research fleets, and its vessels are active in the East and South China seas, the Indian Ocean and sometimes as far as the South Pacific.

Survey ships have played an active role in asserting Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, which are disputed by several Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China and Vietnam’s vessel conflicts

In 2019, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels were locked in a months-long stand-off after the Chinese survey ship the Haiyang Dizhi 8, accompanied by coastguard vessels, carried out a seismic survey in the waters near oil and gas facilities operated by a Russia-Vietnam joint venture.

In 2020, the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was also involved in a three-way stand-off involving Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian vessels near Malaysian oil and gas operations in waters claimed by the three countries.

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Source: SCMP