Male: Amid concerns over the movement of a Chinese vessel which India dubbed for "spying" and "research" purposes in the Maldives Special Economic Zone, a new revelation could further escalate tension as the vessel reportedly did not appear on any of the usual tracking sites. According to a report by Maldivian vernacular daily, Adhadhu, the last location of the vessel was reported near the coast of Indonesia in the Java Sea. Notably, the Chinese ship-- XIANG YANG HONG 03-- equipped to carry research and surveys, will be docking at a Maldivian port after being permitted by the Male government.
According to Marine Traffic, a private website keeping a watch on the movement of ships, the highly advanced Chinese ship is likely to dock at a Male port on February 8.
"The vehicle has not been displayed on public tracking sites since the 22nd of this month. Some of the vehicle's tracking systems are believed to have been switched off. The sites show that the Chinese vessel was in the Java Sea off Indonesia that day," according to the report.
Captain had stopped the transponder thrice
The report claimed that the vessel was stopped by the Indonesian Coast Guard on Sunday after the captain turned off its transponder after entering the Indonesian exclusive economic zone. Notably, a transponder is an automatic identification system capable of providing position, identification, and other information about the ship. According to international maritime law, all ships navigating the archipelagic sea lanes in Indonesian waters, are required to have working transponders. The media report that the transponder was switched off thrice. However, later ICG asked the vessel to leave the country's exclusive economic zone, reported The Asia Times.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Maldivian Foreign Ministry said a diplomatic request was made by the Chinese government for the necessary clearances to make a port call, for the rotation of personnel and replenishment. The statement, however, said the Chinese Research Vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3, will "not be conducting any research while in the Maldivian waters".
Former Maldives envoy raises grave concerns
Raising concerns over the sailing of the Chinese vessel, Mohamed Faisal, former Deputy Ambassador to UAE from Maldives, said that the presence of the Xiang Yang Hong 03 within the Maldivian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) poses several potential dangers, based on its past activities and capabilities.
According to Faisal, while the Maldivian government has assured that the vessel's visit is solely for replenishment, several concerning factors require careful consideration. He said that the vessel has a history of espionage. Faisal claimed that the Chinese ship has a documented history of conducting oceanographic research in strategic locations of interest to China. Beijing could use the data for gathering intelligence on underwater infrastructure, submarine movements, and communication cables.
Moreover, he maintained that the vessel is equipped with sophisticated sonar systems, underwater drones, and advanced mapping capabilities, which could be used to map the seabed structure, locate key infrastructure, and create detailed underwater terrain maps.
Allowing Chinese spy ship could be disastrous: Former envoy
He maintained that Mapping the seabed can reveal the location of valuable resources, such as minerals and fisheries, which could lead to future resource exploitation by China. While explaining the strategic advantage, he emphasised that detailed knowledge of the seabed topography can provide China with a strategic advantage in the Indian Ocean, potentially impacting future shipping routes and military operations.
Besides, the vessel could disrupt critical infrastructure by planting sensors. This could allow China to monitor or even disrupt underwater communication cables and critical infrastructure, impacting the Maldives' vital tourism and fishing industries. Moreover, the spy vessel could leave long-term implications as it might get access to sensitive data which could compromise the Maldives' sovereign interests and create dependence on China in the future, he opined.