Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03, known for its advanced technology and wide range of research capabilities, is returning to its home port after a three-month mission in the waters east of the Maldives’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), according to tracking data. The vessel, boasting a travel range of 15,000 nautical miles, first arrived near Maldivian waters on 29 January.

During its mission, the vessel made two port calls in the Maldives, the first on 22 February and the second on 25 April. Between these visits, the vessel spent a month traversing the edge of the Maldives’ EEZ.

Local media, citing satellite AIS tracking, revealed that the vessel is currently off the coast of Java, Indonesia. Tracking data also showed that the vessel had entered the Maldives’ EEZ numerous times over the past three months.

The vessel’s arrival in the Maldives coincided with President Mohamed Muizzu’s visit to China, during which the Maldives and China inked 20 agreements. A defence agreement was signed between the two nations on 4 May. The Muizzu administration has largely maintained secrecy surrounding these agreements, a stark contradiction to its electoral pledge of government transparency.

Despite early media reports about the vessel’s trajectory towards the Maldives prior to its initial arrival in January, the Muizzu administration remained notably silent. It was only after extensive media coverage that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed that the vessel had been granted permission for a port call in the Maldives, specifically for crew rotation and replenishment of supplies.

Defence Minister Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon later confirmed to Parliament that the Chinese vessel would not conduct any research in the Maldives or the country’s territory. “No research was allowed within the territory of the Maldives. They docked in Malé, bought food, and made a crew change. The crew arrived by air and boarded the ship, and the [departing] crew left by air. That was approved,” Maumoon said on 25 March.

Xiang Yang Hong 03’s mission off Maldivian waters was closely monitored by regional power India, which viewed it as a strategic endeavour by China to bolster its presence and influence in the Indian Ocean region.