Everything You Need To Know: The Chinese Ships on Passing Sibutu Strait

Recent news provided the latest details regarding the incursions involving Chinese warships which are seen as entering Philippine waters while the others arguing it up as one of the innocent passage activities that the People's Liberation Army Navy given that they may simply pass there, but the fact that the Western Mindanao Command raising alarms about it regarding the seemingly-innocent move by the Chinese ships makes it less of innocent passage.

This is one of the ships that were seen traversing the waters of Sibutu
Strait lying west of Tawi-Tawi.
Source Courtesy of China Defense Today.
Before proceeding, let us take note that given the complexities that this discussion of Chinese ships that were involved in that passage, it compels us to write another article on this webpage wherein we will be discussing every ship involved to provide us additional details regarding the kind of fleet we are facing in.

Now to the details of the headlines: The Western Mindanao Command with its headquarters based in Zamboanga City released the information regarding the passage made by the Warships affiliated with China's People's Liberation Army Navy. 

While it is known that the ship's passage on its own worth is not that hostile at all, it is only that they report it as the personnel or even the officials on board these ships were not coordinated with the Philippine government regarding their intention of passing to the Sulu Sea through Sibutu Strait in which it is considered as Territorial Waters, under the military jurisdiction of the Western Mindanao Command.

So, this is definitely not a move which a friendly country like China would do, something that provides some idealistic thinking on how to re-approach on the relations with this country where they are notable of violating another nation's sovereignty such as the recent moves made by them through the portion of their naval fleet.

From here, it will be nice to discuss this matter a bit deeper to provide the idea about what the Chinese did, which ships are involved, the details regarding the respective ships, and a nice tidbit regarding the definition of Innocent Passage given that several people raise this up as to what the Chinese did, within the Philippine territorial waters in line to the statement of the Western Mindanao Command.

Reference: the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (link)
The concept of Innocent Passage. Image Source.
As provided in Section 3 Article 19 of the reference we provided, the definition of Innocent Passage is quoted as follows:

1. (The) Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.

2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:

(a) any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;

(b) any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind;

(c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defense or security of the coastal State;

(d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defense or security of the coastal State;

(e) the launching, landing, or taking on board of any aircraft;

(f) the launching, landing, or taking on board of any military device;

(g) the loading or unloading of any commodity, currency or person contrary to the customs, fiscal, immigration, or sanitary laws and regulations of the coastal State;

(h) any act of wilful and serious pollution contrary to this Convention;

(i) any fishing activities;

(j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;

(k) any act aimed at interfering with any systems of communication or any other facilities or installations of the coastal State;

(l) any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage.

This reminds us of the United States conducting Freedom of Navigation Patrols in the West Philippine Sea where there is a striking difference between the two: Freedom of Navigation Patrols are for a country with its navy traversing the waters as a challenge of its claims as what the US did against Chinese outposts that are against the International Law while Innocent Passage is for a traversing fleet of ships - civilian and military doing a swift passage within territorial waters as long as they do not conduct any activities that are prohibited under the provisions such as surveillance and military exercises.

So, in the transcripts, as detailed in this article by the Western Mindanao Command, there is not exactly a swift passage of Chinese warships within the territory on a straight line but rather, the vessels concerned changes course upon observing the Philippine Military's presence in the area, a blatant violation of conducting innocent passage in Sibutu Strait. 

Hence, the suspicious actions made by the Chinese fleet at the time of the incident may suffice enough for the WesMinCom in the jurisdiction to report and provide details that are seen as hampering the country's sovereignty.

See more: U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence - PLA Navy Identification Guide.

Now that the details provided regarding the definitions on the innocent passage, the scope it covers, the provisions it entails, and observations that need to be applied on practice by traversing ships within territorial waters, it is now worth to understand regarding the ships involved in the incident given that this will not be enough for our Facebook page to articulately provide the information thoroughly.

AORH CNS Luomahu (骆马湖) No. 964
A Type 903-class Replenishment Ship AORH CNS Luomahu (骆马湖) with Hull No. 964,
NATO Codename: Fuchi-class Replenishment Ship.
Image Courtesy of the Western Mindanao Command.
This Type 903-class Replenishment ship by the name of AORH CNS Luomahu (骆马湖) was built by Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard, Shanghai, China five years ago in 2014. She has launched a year later on 05 June 2015 and Commissioned on 15 July 2016. Typically she is an Auxiliary Vessel Tanker (10,500 tonnes fuel)and Ammunition Ship with 680 tonnes of ammunition and stores. She is armed with 8 37mm AA (4-twin) and 4-30mm Guns (Single Mounts). Max Speed of 19 knots, Z-8 Capable, and a crew of 130 Officers and Men. Currently assigned to the South Sea Fleet.

Type-071 Amphibious Support Ship CNS Kunlun Shan (昆仑山) No. 998
A Type-071 Amphibious Support Ship CNS Kunlun Shan (昆仑山) with Hull No.998,
NATO Codename: Yuzhao-class Amphibious Support Ship.
Image Courtesy of the Western Mindanao Command.
The Amphibious Support Ship Kunlun Shan (昆仑山), like the other ships of its class, is currently designated in China's South Sea Fleet with its main HQ based in Zhanjiang with naval bases provided here

Specifications are as follows, based originally on this Chinese-written site here (archived version here) and IHS Janes archived site here.

Displacement: 25,000 tons full load.
Length: 210 m (689 ft 0 in)
Beam: 28 m (91 ft 10 in)
Draft: 7 m (23 ft 0 in)
Speed: 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)
Range: 10,000 nmi (19,000 km) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Boats & landing craft carried: 4 × Type 726 Yuyi class LCAC; Landing craft on port/starboard davits
Troop Capacity: 600–800 troops
1 × AK-176 76 mm (3.0 in) gun
4 × AK-630 30 mm (1.2 in) CIWS
4 × 18-tube Type 726-4 decoy/chaff launcher
Possible installation of 2–4 heavy machine guns (Fitted for but not with)
Aircraft carried: 4 Z-8 

Dong Hai Jiu 101 ship ARS Nan Hai Jiu 195
A Dong Hai Jiu 101 ARS Nan Hai Jiu 195. A Naval Auxillary Ship
which is in itself a Salvage/Rescue Vessel.
Image Courtesy of the Western Mindanao Command.
The apparent length of such ship is in 110 meters while its purpose to be with the rest of the fleet on the time of the incident is more on the support side in the same manner with the replenishment ship CNS Luomahu. As such, support ships such as this area usual thing for them to have along with the fleet wherein it comes at handy in times of distress such as a Chinese warship experiencing problems in the high seas. China's PLA-N does not have the benefit of a Navy like the United States in terms of overseas bases for immediate rescue.

Type 054-class Frigate vessel CNS Xuchang (许昌) No. 536
A Type 054-class Frigate vessel CNS Xuchang (许昌) with Hull No. 536,
NATO Codename: Jiangkai II-Class Frigate.
Image Courtesy of the Western Mindanao Command.
CNS Xuchang (536) which is a Jiangkai II-Class Frigate was commissioned on 23 June 2017. She has a full weapons outfit that is similar across the ships of this class such as a 32-cell Vertical Launching System (VLS), eight C-802 anti-ship missiles, and a 76-mm main gun. Running on a CODAD-powered which comes with 4 Shaanxi 16 PA6 STC diesel engines that can generate 5700 kW with an estimated speed of 27 knots. Its dimensions are 134m-length x 16m-beam with a load displacement of around 4,000 tons.
Reference Source linked here.
And finally, to complete the list...

Type-815g Dongdiao-class Auxiliary General Intelligence Ship (II) CNS Tiangwangxing No. 853
A Dongdiao AGI (II) CNS Tiangwangxing with Hull No. 853.
Definitely, the one that monitors RIMPAC Exercise last year.
Image Courtesy of the Western Mindanao Command.
Being a surveillance vessel or known also as an Electronic Reconnaissance Ship, it comes to no surprise that this is the same ship that shadows other military vessels especially in monitoring military exercises of multilateral nations like the last year's RIMPAC 2018. Being a spy ship, it comes to no surprise as to why this comes with suspicion given that there is the potential that such a vessel, with its sophisticated sensors onboard, conducted surveillance within territorial waters which may tantamount to violating innocent passage in the area. Such a ship appeared in the area is worth a vigilance with, downplaying any Sinophobic allegations that may get from here.


The details provided by the Western Mindanao Command is simply considered part of their duties and responsibilities as the defenders of the nation particularly on their jurisdiction which covers a vast area encompassing Western Mindanao, the Sulu Sea, and areas such as the Sibutu Strait where the recent incident is for them to report up to the national level for agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs to take action, diplomatically.

This is considered the recent incident involving Chinese Warships being inside the Philippine Territory with the other one being in the waters of Balabac in Palawan, being under the jurisdiction of the Western Command.

These recent actions involving Chinese vessels are slowly becoming more of national concern, especially that both incidents, all Chinese warships enter the waters while not notifying the authorities regarding their entry, given that these warships are armed and are worth a close watch wherein China in its case is notable of doing stuff which may consider as a breach on one's sovereignty.

It comes to no surprise despite the warming of relations between the Philippines and China wherein the latter still sticks to its national interest which may go imperialistic in nature. All that it takes now is to improve the country's maritime presence where both the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy are ramping up efforts of purchasing vessels such as Offshore Patrol Vessels.

So, this may serve as a realization that actions may need to be done to prevent such a situation to happen again. It is also a nice time to have a stand especially on the country's national interest and sovereignty which are both essential and important for the whole nation's welfare and survival.


The Chinese recently conducted its passage on the Sibutu Strait situated west of Tawi-Tawi where it is seen by the Western Mindanao Command as suspicious enough to raise concerns, something that may potentially affect national security.

With the ships composing of a frigate, an amphibious support vessel, a surveillance/electronic reconnaissance vessel, and two support vessels, it may only be worth of suspicion wherein its passage may simply not be ignored upon.

With the reports coming up, it now goes to the trend that China has its warships traversing territorial waters, where this is worth the vigilance for the people to have given that such actions are potentially provocative even with such passage being less of a harmful one.

So, on the contents of this article, we understand about the vessel composition in a manner that additional knowledge was incurred regarding the details that matter on understanding a situation such as this one.

All that it takes now is to see how actions will be made by the administration especially by the Armed Forces and the Diplomats as to how they will handle the situation up to keep things in control. Nevertheless, the actions made are a realization that comes with this quote: Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.

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