Sea Drone “Spy” Caught by Chinese Fishermen

On Twitter today I saw a mention of a report that several Chinese fishermen have caught sea drones lately. Chinese Central Television described the device that a Chinese fisherman caught off Jiangsu Province coast as a three-meter long automated boat drone with an undersea glider attached to it by cable. The automated boat/underwater sea drone is wave power-propelled and is equipped with temperature, sea current, sound etc. sensors, satellite navigation, radio transmitter, solar battery. Chinese expert say it is a teleguided spy!

Clouds of flying drones appear in some military nightmares. Swarms of sea drones, some doing oceanographic work others tracking the movements of surface ships and submarines using passive sonar could become an analogous sea surface and underwater nightmare. These robot float swarms could receive orders and transmit communicate in real time via satellite to warships that might thereby identify and precisely locate ships and submarines by comparing ship noise signatures with databases making the vulnerable to missile or other types of attack. This is probably nothing new. According to the Wiki article, the onetime US Atlantic Ocean surveillance network SOSUS was replaced some years ago with mobile data collectors.

Improvements in hardware and software and price cuts have made autonomous sea drones much more common that before. Underwater sea gliders and other autonomous drones are the coming thing in marine research. It wouldn’t be surprising if perfidious foreign navies used them for marine environment mapping studies as well.

The device the Chinese fisherman caught is apparently the “energy-harvesting ocean robot” made by Liquid Robotics, a subsidiary of Boeing.

Photo from the Liquid Robotics webpage.

The Liquid Robotics website discusses the sensor suite on the Ocean Robot.

Ocean Robot sensors

Marine data collection is entering a golden age. Autonomous sensors on the surface along with deep diving gliders and even undersea telecommunications cables are providing much more information about the deep sea than was available just several years ago.

Autonomous seagoing vehicle use has climbed rapidly over the past five years according to the June 2020 Nature article entitled “Ocean data need a sea change to help navigate the warming world

U.S., China Disagree on Legality of Foreign Military Presence and Intelligence Gathering in a Country’s Exclusive Economic Zone

In the mix here is the question of whether a coastal state can prohibit military activities in its exclusive economic zone. Some countries, like the PRC and Argentina say yes, some other countries, including the US, say no. See “Military Activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone: Preventing Uncertainty and Defusing Conflict” from International Law Studies Volume 80 and “Military Activities in the EEZ: A U.S.-China Dialogue on Security and International Law in the Maritime Commons“.

Liquid Robotics on Intelligence Collection Capabilities of its Waveglider

The CCTV report begins with a video at

Chinese Fishermen Catch Strange Black Object, Expert Calls it a Foreign Spy Device


Published: 04-14 21:00 CCTV News Center New Media Official Account

As we all know, fishermen often find some strange things when they go fishing at sea. Recently, some coastal fishermen in China have told reporters that they have been finding strange-looking unidentified objects when they go out fishing.

Recently, the CCTV reporter interviewed fishermen in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hainan and other places to see what these unidentified objects they fished out of the sea.

In Yancheng, Jiangsu, the reporter met with Wang Lock, a fisherman who fished an unidentified black object our of the water while fishing at sea not long ago.

Fisherman Wang Suo described finding the device to a Chinese Central Television reporter.

Wang Suo told reporters that on the day of the incident, he and his crew were fishing offshore, and when the net was halfway up, he found that the net was much lower than usual. He thought he had caught a big fish, and hurriedly increased the power of the net-hauling machine. When the net emerged from the sea, a large black object was in it.

Fishermen Salvaged a Sea-going Unmanned Vehicle

Wang Suo and his crew hurriedly moved the black object to the deck and looked at it closely. They found that the object looks like a small boat with solar panels and propellers. After docking, he reported it to the local fishery administration and the national security department and handed over the device to a national research institution.

Dr. Tang Jiansheng, an expert in hydroacoustic engineering in China, told the reporter that the device is a surface boat that looks like a small boat, and below there is an underwater drive unit that includes six wings and propellers, and the surface boat and the underwater drive unit are connected by a hanging cable. Judging from the appearance, this device should be a wave glider with more advanced target.

Dr. Tang Jiansheng describes the device to the CCTV reporter

The reporter learned that the expert said the wave glider is a new type of unmanned marine submersible that has emerged in recent years, consisting of a surface boat, a hanging cable and an underwater drive unit, which provides power to travel forward through the ebb and flow of waves, and then provides energy for data acquisition, communication, positioning and other functions of the instrument through solar energy.

[Note: Dr. Tang said in the interview although not included in the article text that “the security of hidden underwater targets in the seas around China could be threatened by data collection done by this ocean drone.”]

Structure of wave glider
The surface boat part of the wave glider
Underwater drive unit of wave glider
The propeller of the underwater driving unit of the wave glider

Experts explained that the wave glider is equipped with very many sensors, which can collect marine information closely related to military activities such as water temperature, salinity, density, currents and underwater sound field in the target sea area. It is also equipped with the radio communication devices so it can also receive external instructions in real time to go to the designated place to carry out surveillance, reconnaissance and other intelligence gathering work.

Dr. Tang Jiansheng told reporters that the wave glider found by fishermen Wang Suo was not Chinese-made. A foreign country secretly placed this device in our waters. It has advanced capabilities, can be stay on station a long time in waters near China to carry out reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. Judging from the wear and tear of this device, it can be presumed that it has been working in the target waters for a long time.

Wear and Tear on the Wave Glider Underwater Drive Unit

In recent years, with the continuous improvement of China’s comprehensive national power, foreign countries have been using their own scientific and technological capabilities to increase the threat to China’s maritime security. Foreign spy intelligence organs see the ocean as a new battlefield. They use technology, personnel and other means to carry out intelligence gathering activities in China’s coastal areas.

Freedom of Navigation is not the Freedom to Rampage!

Luo Yuan, former Deputy Director of the Department of World Military Studies of the Academy of Military Sciences

Luo Yuan, former Deputy Director of the World Military Research Department of the Academy of Military Sciences, said: Maritime security is an important security problem for our Chinese nation, and China is now facing huge challenges to its maritime security. Some countries use the right to freedom of navigation to constantly challenging and provoking our maritime security. Your so-called freedom of navigation is not the same thing as freedom to rampage, you can not roam. Throwing your deep water probes at China’s doorstep is like a thief approaching to do some snooping! It is absolutely not allowed under international law. Therefore, for the sake of our national security, we must improve our maritime security protection. (General CCTV reporter Wang Li, Zhao Yingchen, Fan Yueming)

(Editor Chen Zhuoran)

中国渔民捞获黑色奇怪物体 专家:境外间谍窃密装置

央视新闻发布时间: 04-1421:00中央电视台新闻中心新媒体官方帐号03:52



















航行自由 不等于横行自由!


军事科学院原世界军事研究部副部长罗援表示:海上安全是我们中华民族的一个重要安全屏障,中国现在海洋安全面临着巨大的挑战,有些国家以海上航行自由权来不断地挑战、挑衅我们的海上安全。你再说你的航行自由,并不等于你横行自由,你不能横行霸道。把你的一些深水探测器扔到我们家门口,这不就是一个小偷的窥视行动吗?在国际法上是绝对不能允许的。所以说现在为了国家的安全,我们必须要加强海洋安全屏障的建设。(总台央视记者 王莉 赵迎晨 范月鸣)

(编辑 陈卓然)

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated, with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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1 Response to Sea Drone “Spy” Caught by Chinese Fishermen

  1. Pingback: PRC Defense: Starlink Countermeasures | 高大伟 David Cowhig's Translation Blog

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