Author Topic: Zhanyu [湛渔] (822)  (Read 850 times)


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Zhanyu [湛渔] (822)
« on: January 27, 2019, 02:14:35 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

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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