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Chinese intelligence ship tracked close to sensitive Australia-US submarine communications facility

A Chinese PLAN intelligence collection vessel, Haiwangxing , pictured operating off the north-west shelf of Australia. (Commonwealth of Australia)

A Chinese intelligence collection ship has been tracked for a week off the West Australian coast and within 50 n miles (93 km) of a sensitive naval communications base, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton disclosed on 13 May.

Dutton said the People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN's) Dongdiao-class (Type 815/815A) intelligence collection ship (AGI) Haiwangxing had been closely monitored by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft as it moved along the West Australian coast and sailed past the Harold E Holt naval communication station at Exmouth.

Established in the 1960s the joint Australian and US base, named after former Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, provides very low frequency (VLF) radio transmission services in support of Australian, US, and allied submarines.

Dutton said Australia had been tracking the Chinese ship in the past “week or so” but didn't put an exact date on the surveillance undertaken by RAAF P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and other assets.

The Haiwangxing entered Australia's economic exclusion zone (EEZ) on 6 May and two days later, sailed within 70 n miles (130 km) of the Harold E Holt facility, the Department of Defence (DoD) said.

The ship sailed farther south before turning around and sailing within 50 n miles of the communications station on 11 May. It was last spotted early on 13 May, about 250 nautical miles off Broome, heading towards Darwin.

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