The Chinese South Sea Fleet has set up a new marine rescue
squadron as part of moves by the People’s Liberation Army to step
up its battle readiness and deploy more submarines to the region.
The new unit will enhance the navy’s capacity to conduct missions
further afield, military observers said.
The unit was set up during the “latest round of military reform,”
which was announced by the unit political commissar during a
session devoted to studying the political report delivered by
President Xi Jinping at the Communist Party congress on
“The army has to be prepared for battle,” Ke Hehai was quoted as
saying by the PLA Daily on Thursday.
In his speech Xi had pledged to transform the PLA into a
world-class fighting force by 2050.
The North Sea Fleet established a marine rescue squadron in 2011,
which is designed to minimise losses in the event of submarine
accidents. Having a similar unit in the South China Sea is a
signal of the fleet’s enhanced status.
The South Sea Fleet’s area of responsibilities include the
northern regions of the Taiwan Strait and southern areas from
James Shoal, including the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank and
the disputed Spratly Islands.
Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said
the fleet had an increasing need for a rescue unit as it was
carrying out more missions.
“It is a sign that the fleet is getting itself more ready for
battle,” Ni said. “When the army is stressing more on combat
readiness, how can a navy fleet not be equipped with a rescue
unit? Rescue squadrons are crucial in war.”
The South Sea Fleet plays a key role in asserting China’s
territorial claim over the disputed waters, where a number of
Southeast Asian nations and Taiwan also claim sovereignty.
China has deployed most of its advanced nuclear submarines in the
South China Sea, according to satellite images from overseas
think tanks. But the increasing number of submarines in the area
raises the risk of accidents or of being overwhelmed by powerful
In 2014, a new diesel-powered submarine referred to as “No 372”
suffered a near-fatal malfunction when it came close to
plunging into a 3,000-metre trench.
A sudden fall in water density and a subsequent change in water
pressure caused a number of equipment failures including the
bursting of a key pipe. This led to flooding that threatened to
put the engine room out of action.
After three minutes of desperate effort, which included the
sealing of all flooded chambers, the submarine was able to make
it back to the surface.
“When accidents happen, [submarines] cannot rely on the rescue
unit of the North Sea Fleet,” Collin Koh, a maritime security
expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said.
“Many submarines in the region are coming into service for
regional navies. It triggers the risk of sea traffic and
Koh also said that in future the Chinese navy would expand its
range of operations and would need to enhance its rescue