Though it is a known fact that the Yuan Wang-6 is a spy ship of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), sent to the Indian Ocean Region to track India’s missile tests from the APJ Abdul Kalam Island off the Odisha coast, it is officially registered as a research and survey vessel.
While foreign vessels, including warships, can freely sail through the EEZ, Indian law forbids any survey, research or exploration there by a foreign nation without permission.
In 2019, the Indian Navy forced the Chinese research vessel Shi Yan 1 out of India’s EEZ after it was found lurking near Port Blair.
The Shi Yan 1 Is also considered a PLAN spy ship masquerading as a research vessel. That move by the Indian Navy had led to a diplomatic row with China but India had put her foot down.
According to sources, the Indian Navy will do the same this time around if the Yuan Wang-6 attempts to enter India’s EEZ. The destination of this vessel is not marked to any port but to ‘open sea’ and that is where she will have to remain, a senior official said.
India’s Territorial Waters extend to 12 nautical miles from the nearest low tide mark on shore.
Country flag flying on foreign ocean submarines
No foreign warship or submarine can enter this zone without permission from the Government of India. Even if permission is granted, foreign submarines have to traverse these waters on the surface with their countries’ flags flying.
It Is the same for warships. There are no restrictions on other foreign vessels. As the Yuan Wang-6 is not registered as a naval vessel, she may attempt to enter India’s Territorial Waters, if not prevented from entering the EEZ. This could land India on a sticky wicket.
“The only problem is if the Chinese vessel receives permission from any one of our maritime neighbours to enter their territorial waters. We share our maritime boundary with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Near these countries, we can’t enforce our EEZ laws as the sea is contiguous. That is why we have International Maritime Boundary Lines to demarcate territory. Now, if Bangladesh allows the Yuan Wang-6 to dock at Chittagong or Sri Lanka grants permission to her at Hambantota Port, she will be lying extremely close to our coastline and tracking everything,” another official said.
Sri Lanka is neck deep in debt and has been forced to lease away the Hambantota Port to China. In August this year, the Yuan Wang-5, another spy ship from China, docked at Hambantota despite India’s reservations.
But then, Sri Lankan authorities could do little, except defer the arrival of the ship for some time, as much of Hambantota Port is in Chinese hands.