China unveils biggest maritime patrol vessel yet

China has put into service its largest maritime patrol vessel yet as it strengthens its “law enforcement” capabilities in the disputed South China Sea, state media say.

The Haixun 09 is 165 meters long and has a maximum displacement of 13,000 tons – significantly larger than any similar vessel deployed by rival claimants. It’s also China’s first 10,000-ton class maritime patrol vessel.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that the ship, Haixun 09, was commissioned on Oct. 23 in Guangzhou, Guangdong province “to boost maritime patrolling and law enforcement.”

The vessel boasts a helicopter landing pad and a data center equipped with satellite communication systems, including China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, according to Chinese media.

The ship will be operated under the China Maritime Safety Administration’s (MSA) Guangzhou unit which is responsible for South China Sea, Xinhua said.

The MSA is a Chinese government agency that administers all matters related to maritime and shipping safety, but recently has adopted an increasingly important role in safeguarding China’s maritime interests and reinforcing territorial claims.

Just last month, China launched the 5,560-ton Haixun 03, the largest patrol vessel under the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration, which also oversees part of the South China Sea.

Observers say such deployments support Beijing’s push to exercise jurisdiction in the South China Sea despite protests from neighboring countries.

China claims “historical rights” to most of the South China Sea but its claims are not supported by international law and are widely contested – including its assertion of the right to police disputed seas.

China’s maritime surveillance fleet, which far exceeds those of its Southeast Asian neighbors, is estimated at more than 300 vessels but only a handful are above 3,000 tons.

The maritime surveillance fleet is distinct from the China Coast Guard, which is armed and also operates around the South China Sea, escorting Chinese vessels and functioning like a maritime police. The coastguard also far outstrips comparable fleets of neighboring countries.

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