The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is reportedly practicing on invading Taiwan’s Dongsha Islands, as seven civilian car ferries were spotted engaging in amphibious landing drills on beaches in the Taiwan Strait twice recently.
Defense analyst Tom Shugart posted on Twitter that he tracked seven civilian roll-on roll-off (RoRo) ferries in late August and early September as they sailed from the Yellow Sea to the Taiwan Strait. The seven dual-purpose ferries are owned by the Bo Hai Ferry Group, which is under the PRC Maritime Militia's Eight Transport Group when the ferries take part in PLA amphibious assault and transport exercises.
These ships were spotted leaving their regular Yellow Sea routes bound for Fujian Province on August 30 for a PLA summer military exercise, Shugart wrote. He warned that "an exercise could be a rehearsal for or cover for a surprise kinetic operation."
Shugart then stated that in his opinion, if a surprise assault were to take place, Taiwan's Dongsha Islands would be the likely target. He reiterated that there are currently no signs of an imminent invasion of the islands.
A day later, on Aug. 31, Shugart spotted a ferry off the coast of Gulei, which is in southwestern Fujian. The defense analyst suggested that waves extending from the stern of the vessel toward the beach could indicate amphibious vehicles were moving toward these shores as part of an exercise.
On Sept. 1, a vehicle carrier from Weihai Sheng An Shipping, joined two ferries as they sailed from Gulei to Shanwei in Guangdong Province. One of the ferries also stopped at Gulei as well. Due to the fact that it was also off a beach, Shugart suggested that it had carried out amphibious operations as well.
The ferries were located at the eastern edge of Guangdong Province's Honghai Bay on Sept. 1, possibly preparing for amphibious operations. The vehicle carrier moved to the west in Honghai Bay and Shanwei was listed as its destination.
The observer pointed out that Honghai Bay was the location of PLA amphibious assault exercises in 2020. Also of note, Honghai Bay sits directly across from Taiwan's Dongsha Islands, Taiwan News reported.
Shugart reported that on Sept. 2, other five RoRo ferries were spotted in Dacheng Bay, which straddles the border between Fujian and Guangdong provinces. He noted that this was also a location where amphibious assault training had taken place in 2021 and included civilian vessels.
Later that day, he wrote that three ferries appeared to have completed their missions in Honghai Bay and were heading back to the north. The other four ferries appeared to have completed their operations in Dacheng Bay and were headed north.
Shugart told USNI News that this class of 15,000-ton RoRo ferries have a "vehicle cargo capacity that’s almost three times that of a San Antonio-class amphibious warship (LPD-17)." He stated that with the development of the launching craft such last the ZTD-05, the ships can "dump the amphibious assault vehicles right into the water, which means now those ferries can be the first echelon sending assault units straight to the beach.“