Author Topic: China's 'Sea Phantom' Fleet Prowls the Open Waters  (Read 794 times)

adroth

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China's 'Sea Phantom' Fleet Prowls the Open Waters
« on: January 27, 2019, 01:36:09 PM »
China's 'Sea Phantom' Fleet Prowls the Open Waters
Beijing has a long history of sneaking up on rival ships.

by Koh Swee Lean Collin, February 4, 2016

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/chinas-sea-phantom-fleet-prowls-the-open-waters-15105?page=0%2C1

ot long before the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur recently conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) off the Chinese-occupied Paracel Islands, an interesting maritime exercise took place in waters off southern mainland China. The images released in the public domain are interesting to note; many of the ships have hull numbers that carry the prefix 湛渔, or Zhanyu (the prefix Zhan for Zhanjiang, where the vessel is based, and Yu for fishery). This feature, alongside their distinct physical attributes, might give the impression that they are commercial deep-sea seiners and trawlers, which typically populate China’s vast fishing fleet.

But closer examination shows these ships to be no mere fishing vessels. Even though some of them, for instance Zhanyu 819, 820 and 822, have what appear to be seine winches astern, the cluster of antennae on board was conspicuous. Moreover, instead of commercial livery, all ships pictured were painted in typical People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) gray. These were probably some of the rare few high-resolution pictures which detail the bulk of assets belonging to the PLAN South China Sea Fleet Unit 488, based in Maxie, Zhanjiang. This obscure flotilla has sister units serving with the other two PLAN fleets, also equipped with such intelligence trawlers (AGIs), dubbed the Type-792 class.

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Improved oceangoing capabilities have taken the “sea phantoms” beyond China’s immediate regional waters; some such cases even date back decades. For example, in August 1994, the Indian Coast Guard apprehended three Chinese trawlers manned by fifty-five crewmembers off Narcondam, who were found to possess sophisticated radio equipment as well as highly detailed maps—some reportedly published by the PLA—of the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Sea and hydrographic details of the strategic Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where the Indians maintained a military outpost. Between April and August 2011, the Indians tracked a Chinese trawler suspected to be an AGI operating in waters close to the same islands and surreptitiously monitoring Indian military activities.

At times, the “sea phantoms” have behaved more aggressively than usual, even taking on foreign naval vessels. Notably, in March 2009, two “small, Chinese-flagged trawlers”—undoubtedly the “sea phantoms”—took part in aggressively shadowing and maneuvering close to USNS Impeccable off Hainan Island. Their crews first closed within fifty feet of the American vessel, and then twenty-five feet despite being pummeled by water hoses. They even attempted to snag the acoustic device towed astern of the Impeccable and tossed objects into the water to obstruct its path. Last October, while the PLAN behaved professionally, Chinese merchant or fishing vessels which U.S. Navy authorities called “not as demure as the Chinese Navy” maneuvered aggressively around the destroyer USS Lassen as it conducted FONOPS off the artificial island that Beijing built on Subi Reef.

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adroth

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Re: China's 'Sea Phantom' Fleet Prowls the Open Waters
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2019, 01:54:56 AM »
While attempting to defend the use of Chinese militias, it is important to note the plausible counter arguments and not dismiss them wholesale. The claims in this article, however, do not address the details shared above.


The Dark Harvest of Chinese "Black Ships"
BY THE LOWY INTERPRETER 2019-01-25 16:08:37
[By Zhang Hongzhou]

https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/the-dark-harvest-of-chinese-black-ships?fbclid=IwAR0D3QC2DAeCxMLZgbQS_2fLpv6bVeR28_yfSRGlvoWSXlMrkV7Gc8cfvR8

A US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies report (Illuminating the South China Sea’s Dark Fishing Fleets) sheds new light on the size and behaviour of fishing fleets in the Spratly Islands. The report reveals the presence of a large “dark fishing fleet” in the South China Sea and concludes that “most of these vessels serve, at least part-time, in China’s maritime militia.” But it overemphasises maritime militias, reinforces the popular narrative that China is militarising its fishermen, and overlooks fisheries issues in the South China Sea.

For starters, it is unfair to view China’s fishing militia program in isolation. It is widespread practice to arm fishing vessels in the South China Sea. All the key South China Sea claimant states consider their fishermen as crucial players in safeguarding their respective claims in the disputed waters. Vietnam, for example, has a large fishing militiafleet operating in the South China Sea, and in recent years the Vietnamese government has devoted substantial effort to expanding its militia fleet in the contested waters.

Next, those Chinese fishing vessels that hide their activities while operating in the Spratlys could simply be “black ships” (fishing vessels without relevant legal permits). In the late 1990s, to prevent overfishing and control its massive fishing fleet, China introduced tight control of fishing permits. However, a huge number of “black ships” have been operating in Chinese waters and beyond. It was reported that in 2017, Chinese authorities confiscated or banned about 30,000 “black ships”. These ships generally don’t have an Automatic Identification System, or if they do, it is usually switched off after the ship sets sail.

One of the key points of evidence for the maritime militia claim is the strange patterns of behaviour displayed by the Chinese fishing vessels: “Chinese fleets in the Spratlys spend far less time fishing and far more time at anchor than is typical of vessels elsewhere”. These strange patterns could be, at least partly, for other reasons.

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