One of the enjoyable aspects of cruising for former seafarers is the opportunity to see sectors of shipping that we would normally not see here at home. One such occurrence for us was a port call in Auckland, New Zealand, in October last year where we found the sophisticated Chinese research / survey vessel Yuan Wang 5. She and China’s fleet of six similar vessels form the backbone of the country’s world-wide space tracking and intelligence gathering capability.
Built by China State Shipbuilding Corporation, Shanghai, PRC
Operated by the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)
Commissioned in 2007
LOA 190m (approx)
GRT 22,686 tons
Speed 20 knots (approx.)
Registered in Shanghai
The Yuan Wang (translates to “Long View” in Mandarin) class of ships are used for tracking and support of space flights, satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The first Yuan Wang class of vessel is believed to have been proposed by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1965, eventually being approved by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1968 with Yuan Wang 1 and Yuan Wang 2 entering service in 1977 and 1978 respectively. The latest in the series, Yuan Wang-7, was launched in July 2016. I took the pictures above left and centre while entering the picturesque Port of Auckland on Celebrity Solstice.
The presence of Yuan Wang 5 in Auckland attracted a good deal of local attention and no small amount of criticism with many locals objecting to a vessel with such high level military capabilities enjoying New Zealand hospitality. It was only in November 2016 that US warships returned to New Zealand after an impasse of 30 years following the decision of the country’s parliament in 1985 to ban warships carrying, or capable of carrying, nuclear weapons. This led to New Zealand being suspended in 1986 from the ANZUS collective security agreement first signed by Australia, New Zealand and the United States in 1951. Throughout this period, the United States stuck rigidly to its policy of "neither confirming nor denying" if a ship was nuclear armed or powered which kept American naval vessels out of New Zealand’s ports. There now appears to be a loose “don’t ask, don’t tell” form of compromise since New Zealand still formally requires US ships to declare their nuclear status, and the United States continues to refuse to do so.
Ship of the Week contributed by Captain Stephen Brown, West Pacific Marine Ltd.