Chinese spy ship seen operating off Western Australia

Chinese spy ship seen operating off Western Australia

Photo: Australian Department of Defence

On May 6, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) intelligence gathering vessel Haiwangxing entered Australia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), then loitered in a position off Exmouth, Western Australia, before tracking northwards.

Analysts believe that the ship was monitoring the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) Harold H. Holt Very Low Frequency communications facility situated near Exmouth. This installation, jointly manned by Australian and US specialists, enables secure communications with RAN and allied surface warships and submarines.

The ship was monitored by a RAN P-8A and an Australian Border Force (ABF) Dash 8 maritime patrol aircraft, as well as by the ABF patrol vessel Cape Sorell.

China puts a great deal of effort into offshore electronic intelligence gathering. Indeed, the 6,000-tonne, 37-metre, helicopter-capable Haiwangxing is one of a fleet of at least eight ocean-going intelligence gathering assets, dedicated to detecting, recording, and analysing the encrypted transmissions of foreign powers, to help evolve means of electronic penetration and attack in the event of hostilities.

In recent years, these ships have been active in the Indo-Pacific region, the South China Sea, and off the US West Coast. One was detected operating off Queensland in July of last year.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritime's resident maritime security expert and columnist.