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Chinese Fishermen Catch Foreign-Made Surveillance Drone in Yellow Sea

drone boat
Image courtesy PLA / Chinese state media

Published Apr 16, 2021 4:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

Chinese fishermen have recovered a drone boat off the eastern coast of the Chinese mainland, and officials suspect that it is a "reconnaissance device secretly placed by a foreign country," according to state-owned outlet CCTV. 

The fishing boat skipper who found the device, Wang Suo, told state media that his net seemed extra heavy when he began to haul it in. He sped up the process, thinking that he had caught a lot of fish. Instead, he pulled up a black device about 10 feet long. Given its strange shape, he reported it and turned it over to local officials for investigation. 

Images of the device show a surfboard-shaped unit with antennas and solar panels on top, with an attached device fitted with ten horizontal fins - virtually identical in appearance to the Wave Glider reconnaissance drone built by Boeing's Liquid Robotics division. The Wave Glider is used by the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy, among others. 

Wave Glider-shaped surveillance drones have made media headlines before, including the unit discovered by HM Coastguard on the UK's Isle of Tiree last October. It was held pending identification of the owner, but no one claimed it.

According to CCTV, the glider was recovered off the coast of Yancheng, just north of Shanghai. Military commentator Song Zhongping told South China Morning Post that surveillance drones of this kind can be used to gather basic oceanographic data that is very valuable for submarine and anti-submarine warfare. "These vehicles can . . . transfer information via satellite, which makes them more efficient . . . and a great threat to China's national security," Song said. 

“It could have been working for a long time, continuously collecting data on the marine environment in the waters around China,” said defense commentator Tang Jiansheng, speaking to CCTV.

Chinese-made surveillance drones have also been captured by fishermen in sensitive locations. In late December, an unmarked autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) was found near Selayar Island, Indonesia, near the southern entrance to the strategic Makassar Strait. The drone - a seven foot glider with a three-foot trailing antenna - was discovered by a fisherman, who reported it to local officials. The drone shared physical features with the Chinese-built Sea Wing glider, but Indonesia's navy did not immediately identify the suspected owner; no one stepped forward to claim it.