Sat, Aug 09, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Spy ship off southern coast

AGENCIES AND STAFF WRITER

A Chinese survey vessel believed to be a spy ship has been found operating near Taiwan again, naval officials said yesterday.

The 2,894-tonne Xiangyanghong 14 oceanographic research ship, linked to China's National Bureau of Oceanography, was detected by the navy's radar systems at noon Wednesday in high seas near Green Island, off southeastern Taiwan, the officials said.

"The navy dispatched patrol vessels to monitor its movement and ordered related radar stations to keep close watch on the target," they said.

The same vessel intruded into Taiwan's territorial waters last November, prompting Taipei to lodge a protest with Beijing.

Its crew members claimed the ship was conducting an oceanographic survey when Taiwanese coast patrol boats tried to intercept it for inspection on Wednesday, local papers reported.

The Xiangyanghong 14 did not leave the navy's monitoring range until 2:30pm on Thursday.

Upon spotting the Xiangyanghong 14 the ROC Navy immediately dispatched two Perry-class frigates to the adjacent waters to monitor the Chinese vessel and informed the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) about the situation.

The CGA dispatched three coastal patrol vessels to shadow the research ship. Some four hours of playing cat and mouse ensued, with the Xiangyanghong 14 being chased to some 130km from Oluanpi before the CGA vessels ceased their pursuit.

During the pursuit, according to CGA officials, the Xiangyanghong 14 sent a message to the CGA vessels through an international telecommunications channel to ask the Taiwan patrol vessels to leave the area in order to avoid what it termed "accidents" from occurring.

Chinese maritime research vessels were discovered operating in waters very close to Taiwan's exclusive economic zone on more than 10 occasions last year, with some technically being incursions into Taiwan's territorial waters, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said yesterday.

Since the research vessels were not military ones and were on international research missions, the navy was not in a position to interfere, MND officials said.

They added that the best Taiwan could do was to chase them away using the civilian CGA vessels despite knowing that the vessels were on espionage missions collecting security-related maritime intelligence.

Radar stations and reconnaissance vessels have been placed on higher alert to bolster the CGA's capacity to monitor and search for suspicious craft, the MND said.

The Xiangyanghong 14 is not armed but is equipped with various antennas. It operates in the Taiwan Strait all year round.

CGA officials said they suspect that the ship has repeatedly sailed close to Orchid Island not only to conduct oceanic research but also to intercept Taiwan's communications broadcasts

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