Canadian Frigate Shadowed by Chinese Warships in Taiwan Strait

HMCS Ottawa under way in the Taiwan Strait with USS Ralph Johnson (background) (Royal Canadian Navy)

Published Sep 10, 2023 12:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, a Canadian warship joined a U.S. Navy destroyer on a transit of the Taiwan Strait, contributing to a recurring operation that demonstrates a commitment to freedom of navigation.

HMCS Ottawa is on a four-month deployment on the far side of the Pacific. She has been shadowed constantly by warships of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), often several at a time. In one instance, an unidentified small vessel illuminated Ottawa with a laser while the ship was operating in the East China Sea, one crewmember told an embarked reporter with CBC. 

No less than three Chinese warships shadowed the Ottawa through the Taiwan Strait, CBC reported, and Chinese jets approached on an intercept course to within about 15 nautical miles. The Taiwanese frigate ROCS Cheng Kung sailed alongside as the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson led the way. 

U.S. 7th Fleet emphasized in a statement that the transit passed through international waters, beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state. China claims the full width of the Taiwan Strait as its own, along with the majority of the South China Sea. This exceeds the 12-nautical mile distance limit laid out by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague rejected these claims as inconsistent with international law in 2016, but China has disregarded the ruling. 

It is the fourth time that a Royal Canadian Navy warship has joined a U.S. Navy transit through the Taiwan Strait since 2021, and the first time for HMCS Ottawa. HMCS Winnipeg, Vancouver and Montreal have also made the voyage, according to a database kept by naval analyst Collin Koh.

"Cooperation like this represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region where aircraft and ships of all nations may fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," said 7th Fleet in a statement.

HMCS Ottawa is a Halifax-class frigate commissioned in 1996. She has a long history operating alongside U.S. Navy forces: she joined American task forces off Iraq in 1998 and again during the war in Afghanistan in 2002.