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4,500-tonne Chinese 'spy' ship returns to Maldivian waters 'after skirting EEZ', Muizzu Govt mum on reason

A sophisticated Chinese vessel weighing 4,500 tonnes, suspected of espionage, has reappeared in Maldivian waters after a two-month absence.

4500 tonne Chinese 'spy' ship returns to Maldivian waters 'after skirting EEZ', Muizzu Govt mum on reason snt
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First Published Apr 27, 2024, 11:33 AM IST

A sophisticated Chinese vessel weighing 4,500 tonnes, suspected of espionage, has reappeared in Maldivian waters after a two-month absence. The Xiang Yang Hong 03 was observed docked at the Thilafushi industrial island's harbor on Thursday morning, as reported by Adhadhu.com on Friday.

The government has yet to disclose the purpose behind its return, though it had previously granted permission for the ship's initial visit. This development follows the recent victory of President Mohamed Muizzu and his pro-China People's National Congress in the general elections, securing a commanding 66 out of 93 seats in the People's Majlis.

President Muizzu, who campaigned on an "India Out" platform, further solidified his authority with a resounding victory in the parliamentary polls held on April 21.

"The ship has now come back after skirting the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Therefore, Xiang Yang Hong 03 has been active inside or near Maldives territory since January," the report stated.

On February 23, the vessel had previously docked at the Thilafushi port, located approximately 7.5 km west of Male.

Arriving in Maldivian waters on February 22 after spending roughly a month near the boundary of the Maldives' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the high-tech ship returned to the EEZ boundary about six days later.

In February, the Maldivian Foreign Ministry stated that the Xiang Yang Hong 3's presence was attributed to a diplomatic request made by the Chinese government to the Maldivian government for a port call, personnel rotation, and replenishment purposes.

Also read: Pro-China leader's party secures landslide win in Maldives parliamentary elections amid row with India

"The vessel would not be conducting any research while in the Maldivian waters," the Foreign Ministry said on January 23.

The Maldives' strategic significance is underscored by its proximity to India, merely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the western coast of mainland India. Situated at the crossroads of vital commercial sea lanes traversing the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Maldives holds considerable geopolitical importance.

In February, local media reports shed light on the Xiang Yang Hong 03's specifications. This 100-meter-long vessel, incorporated into China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) fleet in 2016, stands as China's sole 4,500-tonne vessel. Since 2019, it has been engaged in 'distant water' and 'deep sea' surveys through China's Pilot Ocean Laboratory initiatives.

The vessel's capabilities extend to diverse research domains, including salinity studies, microbial genetics, underwater mineral exploration, and environmental assessments of underwater ecosystems. Equipped with data buoys for measuring oceanic parameters such as currents, waves, and other critical environmental indicators, the vessel furnishes real-time satellite data to the Chinese government.

According to Adhadhu.com, China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA), responsible for overseeing the Xiang Yang Hong 03, asserts that the ship represents the pinnacle of China's marine research prowess. Designated as a comprehensive research vessel, it is equipped to undertake multifaceted research endeavors.

China claims that the vessel boasts an impressive endurance of 15,000 nautical miles, enabling it to undertake uninterrupted operations spanning vast distances without the need for external assistance.

Interestingly, the same Chinese vessel was observed in the vicinity of the India-Maldives-Sri Lanka trilateral Dosti-16 exercise conducted in the ocean near Male from February 22 to 25.

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