Contrary to the official claim that the Chinese survey vessel Jia Geng sought permission from Philippine authorities to shelter off Catanduanes, the ship’s captain allegedly never made contact with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) station in Virac before it arrived off Bato town on Jan. 28, 2021.
According to reliable accounts of the ship’s arrival in Cabugao Bay, it was the local PCG which hailed the Jia Geng first once it came into view from the station in the capital town.
Press sources had been quoted as saying that China sought clearance from the Philippine government last Jan. 28 to drop anchor in the bay for four days due to bad weather and rough seas but the application was still pending at the time it arrived and sat at anchor until it left on Feb. 1.
If there was a pending application for such a clearance, the local Coast Guard personnel was apparently not aware of it.
Using a motorized banca, Coast Guard personnel, including one who spoke Chinese, went to the Jia Geng but were not allowed to board by the ship officials who cited COVID-19 health protocols.
At the time it alleged sought shelter, there was no storm in the Pacific Ocean east of the Samar-Bicol area and only the northeast monsoon was affecting the region.
Built by the Guangzhou Shipyard International in 2017, the 3,611-gross ton Jia Geng has a length of 77.7 meters and a width of 16.24 meters.
Owned and operated by Xiamen University’s Oceanography and Geophysics College, the ship is named after the school’s founder, Chen Jia Geng or “Tan Kah Kee.”
Equipped for deep-see underwater exploration, the vessel can travel 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) per round-trip voyage and hold out in open sea for 50 days.
The Jia Geng carries more than 50 crewmen, scientists and students and has elaborately-equipped laboratories. Below the waterline, it is fitted multi-beam sonar and other hydrographic and oceanographic sensors while its wheelhouse has Highlander ARPA radars, ECDIS and radio communications equipment.
Its multidisciplinary and comprehensive missions, the university website said, include oceanography researches, teaching practices and related engineering operations in ice-free areas.
To carry out high-precision deep-sea investigations, the ship is equipped with a flipper fitted with many detectors, a university official said in a news report, while transducers and probes for landform scanning have also been installed on bottom of the ship.
With a maximum speed exceeding 14 knots, it is reportedly just one of 20 vessels in the world that is equipped with special noise abating techniques to minimize impact on the marine environment.
According to a study on China’s “distant-ocean” survey activities and its implication for US national security, Ryan Martinson and Peter Dutton, China has expanded the operations of its oceanographic research fleet that on any given day, five to 10 of its “scientific research vessels” may be found operating beyond the country’s waters in strategically-vital areas of the Indo-Pacific.
The study said that in the 1980s, China’s civilian research fleet surveyed remote sections of the South China Sea, laying the foundation for its ultimate occupation of the Spratly Islands.
It added that in the Philippine Sea, such vessels have deployed “White Dragon” surface buoys capable of collecting and transmitting meteorological and oceanographic information in real-time.
The Chinese government’s investment in so-called out-of-area oceanographic research, Martinson and Dutton disclosed, is driven by its desire to explore and ultimately exploit seabed resources in high seas areas and support the development of its blue-water naval capabilities.
Research vessels conduct high-resolution bathymetric surveys of such areas with potential deposits of seabed minerals, the study said.
In fact, Martinson and Dutton pointed out, the quasi-government agency COMRA represented China in three contracts to explore for seabed resources in undersea zones, including one in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where there are so-called polymetallic nodules at the sea floor.
“China’s distant-ocean survey activities may be a leading indicator of China’s evolving naval strategy,” the authors noted. “They portent a future in which People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships and submarines routinely operate on all the world’s great oceans.”
Significantly, a recent report cited the Marine Science Institute at UP Diliman as saying that the Benham Rise just north of Catanduanes is “potentially rich in precious and base metals like manganese, some gold and so on, spreading from the center of the rise.”