TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Six roll-on roll-off (RoRo) ferries associated with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) were spotted on Sunday (Sept. 24) conducting drills on Chinese beaches in the Taiwan Strait.
Tom Shugart, an Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, on Sept. 22, on X, (formerly Twitter) claimed data from MarineTraffic showed six civilian RoRo ferries deviated substantially from their normal Yellow Sea routes as they conducted "undetermined, but likely non-commercial" operations along China's east coast.
He said the six dual-purpose ferries are owned by the Bo Hai Ferry Group, and fall under the PRC Maritime Militia's Eight Transport Group when the ferries take part in PLA amphibious assault and transport exercises.
Image from Dahm's study of China's ferry fleet. (US Naval War College Digital Commons screenshot)
He identified the ships as: Bo Hai Jin Zhu, Bo Hai Bao Zhu, Bo Hai Heng Da, Bo Hai Fei Zhu, Bo Hai Cui Zhu, and Bo Hai Zhen Zhu. He said they were located outside major port cities from Qingdao to Shantou.
The Bo Hai Cui Zhu and Bo Hai Jin Zhu took part in amphibious landing drills on Chinese beaches with five other car ferries in the Taiwan Strait in September 2022.
Shugart cited retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer J. Michael Dahm's China Maritime report "More Chinese Ferry Tales" as saying the Bohai Ferry Group ships belong to the Maritime Militia's "Eight Transport Dadui." Shugart said the six ships he tracked on Sept. 22 weigh about 150,000 gross tons in total and comprise over one-third of the Bohai Ferry fleet.
Bo Hai Zhen Zhu anchored near Xiamen. (MarineTraffic screenshot)
He predicted these ships would likely take part in a People's Liberation Army (PLA) amphibious landing exercise. However, more monitoring would be needed, he added.
On Sunday (Sept. 24) evening, Shugart posted an update on X claiming the Bo Hai Cui Zhu, Bo Hai Heng Da, and Bo Hai Bao Zhu were at an industrial wharf in Xiamen, which is adjacent to Kinmen County and across the Taiwan Strait. He said the Bo Hai Zhen Zhu appeared to be anchored near Xiamen near the other three vessels.
Bo Hai Fei Zhu anchored near Xiamen. (MarineTraffic screenshot)
As of publication, the Bo Hai Fei Zhu was located off of Dongshan in Fujian Province, the Bo Hai Heng Da, Bo Hai Bao Zhu, and Bo Hai Cui Zhu were just off the coast of Gulei in Fujian Province, and the Bo Hai Zhen Zhu was still situated right next to Xiamen City, according to MarineTraffic data. The Bo Hai Jin Zhu was docked in Yantai.
PLA-associated ferries on the move: as of recent AIS data, six Bo Hai Ferries have left their normal Yellow Sea operating routes and are now conducting undetermined, but likely non-commercial, operation off China's east coast. pic.twitter.com/uX5vkpD82N— Tom Shugart (@tshugart3) September 21, 2023
UPDATE: three of the Bo Hai ferries: Bo Hai Cui Zhu, Heng Da, and Bao Zhu; are now at what appears to be an industrial wharf in Xiamen, across the Strait from Taiwan. My guess is they're doing on-load/off-load ops for a PLA operation/exercise of some sort. https://t.co/wpStve7VH7 pic.twitter.com/lJOkuEpH4s— Tom Shugart (@tshugart3) September 24, 2023