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Chinese ship used underwater vehicle to collect samples off Okinotorishima

  • August 6, 2020
  • , Sankei , Lead
  • JMH Translation

In July, a Chinese marine surveillance vessel called the Dayang engaged in survey activities inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that surrounds Okinotorishima (Ogawsawara, Tokyo) without permission from Japan. During the survey, the Chinese ship may have used a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to collect samples from the seabed, Sankei learned from a government source on August 5. The Japanese government has been unable to put a stop to Chinese activities in the area so far, which are likely aimed at collecting and analyzing samples of the area’s mineral deposits.


Japanese gov’t confirms China’s use of ROVs


In the past, China was confirmed to have used ROVs in survey activities in an offshore area off Okinawa that China claims to be an extension of China’s continental shelf. China has continued to conduct research activities without Japan’s consent, but the Japanese government has not been able to directly confirm the details of the survey, such as what samples have been collected.


According to the Japan Coast Guard, the Dayang began its research activities inside the Japanese EEZ around Okinotorishima on July 9. After leaving the EEZ on July 18, the vessel returned to the zone and alternately sailed and drifted there from July 24 to July 27. The ship appeared to be continuously surveying the entire region. During the time when the Dayang was inside the Japanese EEZ without permission, China Coast Guard ships were sailing through waters around the Senkakus (Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture) daily.


A government source says it has confirmed that the Dayang submerged an ROV at waters 160 km north-northeast of Okinotorishima on July 11 and July 12. ROVs are generally used for collecting samples. They are equipped with underwater cameras and robot arms that are remotely operated from the ship through the attached wires. The use of ROVs enables the research crew to dig into the seabed and collect sediment while adjusting the location using the camera.


Japan claims about 400,000 square kilometers of EEZ, larger in size than the archipelago itself, surrounding  Okinotorishima in the southernmost area of the country. The nearby seabed is believed to have sheets of “manganese crust” that contain rare metals such as cobalt and nickel that are indispensable for the production of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles. The Japanese government estimates that the region could yield roughly 140 billion yen in profit after the capacity for exploiting such resources is developed.


In addition to the ROVs, the Dayang used other equipment including water samplers, bottom samplers for collecting mud samples for geological analysis, air guns for exploring the earth’s crust, and plankton nets for monitoring fishing resources. It is also suspected that the ship sailed over seabed that Japan had previously named to confirm the accuracy of the measurement of the seabed configuration.

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