As regional tensions continue to grow over overlapping claims in the South and East China Seas, China’s premier civilian maritime agency announced last week it would commission more than three dozen new vessels by next year.
Quoting Chinese government officials, the state-affiliated China Daily reported that to safeguard China’s huge maritime interests, the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) would add 36 ships to its fleet by next year. An unnamed CMS official said that seven vessels would have a displacement of 1,500 tonnes, 15 of 1,000 tonnes and 14 of 600 tonnes.
Construction of the 600-tonne cutters reportedly began on Tuesday in Weihai, Shandong Province.
The vessels will be distributed to 14 provinces, autonomous regions and cities along the Chinese coastline, it said.
Last week’s announcement seemed to indicate that the CMS was accelerating its acquisition of new vessels amid disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. CMS Deputy Director Sun Shuxian (孫書賢) said in May last year that the 36 new ships would be acquired over the next five years as part of the 12th Five Year Plan approved by the State Council. Under the plan, the agency would also increase personnel by more than 1,000, to about 10,000, and China would “carry out regular sea patrols more frequently to strengthen law enforcement in Chinese-related waters to safeguard the country’s maritime rights in 2011.”
At the time of Sun’s announcement, the CMS counted a fleet of as many as 300 marine surveillance ships — including 30 with displacement of more than 1,000 tonnes — as well as six fixed-wing aircraft and four helicopters.
Jane’s Defence Weekly reported last year that a growing number of larger CMS vessels were capable of carrying helicopters and were becoming more advanced in terms of electronics and maneuverability.
CMS ships were recently involved in China’s dispute with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal (黃岩島) and are also used to enforce China’s claims to the Spratly (南沙群島) and Paracel islands (西沙群島) in the South China Sea, of which Taiwan is also a claimant. CMS patrol ships sailing close to the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) have also sparked disputes with Japan.