Chinese research ship Xiang Yang Hong 3 returns to Maldives waters for second visit

A 4,500-tonne high-tech Chinese research ship is back in the Maldivian waters, two months after it spent a week docked at different ports in this archipelago nation.

Xiang Yang Hong 03 was docked at the Thilafushi industrial island’s harbour on Thursday morning, news portal reported on Friday.

However, “the government has not disclosed the reason for its return.

But the government previously confirmed permission for the ship to dock before its first visit,” it said, days after President Mohamed Muizzu, a pro-China leader-led People’s National Congress won the general election, securing 66 out of the 93-member People’s Majlis.

Muizzu rode to power last year on an ‘India Out’ promise and with a super majority win in parliamentary polls on April 21, he has further consolidated his position.

“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,” it said.

The ship had earlier docked on February 23 at the same Thilafushi port, about 7.5 km to the west of Male.

The hi-tech ship reached Maldivian waters on February 22 after spending about a month near the boundary of the Maldives’ EEZ. About six days later, the ship went back to the EEZ boundary.

In February, the Maldivian Foreign Ministry had said the Xiang Yang Hong 3 was here to “make a port call, for the rotation of its personnel and replenishment” after a diplomatic request was made by the government of China to the government of Maldives.

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

The Maldives’ proximity to India, barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast, and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) gives it significant strategic importance.

Meanwhile, local media reports in February provided details about the type of vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03: The 100-metre-long vessel was added to the fleet of China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) in 2016.

This is the only 4,500-tonne vessel currently in China. Since 2019, China has also been using the vessel to conduct ‘distant water’ and ‘deep sea’ surveys at China’s Pilot Ocean Laboratory.

The vessel can also be used for studies on salinity, microbial genetic studies, underwater mineral exploration, and underwater life and environmental studies, it said.

It has data buoys that can measure ocean currents, waves, and important environmental information.

These buoys will provide real-time satellite information to the Chinese government, the report then said.

On Friday, quoted China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA), which manages the Xiang Yang Hong 03, stating that the ship is the most modern vessel manufactured in the country for marine research.

China says it is a comprehensive research vessel, meaning it is equipped for more than one task.

According to China, the boat’s endurance is 15,000 nautical miles, which means it could travel 15,000 nautical miles nonstop for its work without assistance.

Incidentally, the same Chinese vessel was present near the India-Maldives-Sri Lanka trilateral Dosti-16 exercise that took place in the ocean near Male between February 22 and 25.