Photo by Xinhue Andy Chan
China has built its first ocean patrol ship that can operate a helicopter. The ship was seen after launch, in the colors of the Maritime Security Agency (diagonal red stripe on the hull near the bow, similar to the stripes on U.S. Coast Guard ships). Another
such ship is apparently being built in southern China, on a frigate hull. The Maritime Security Agency (MSA) is a strange organization. It is actually a composite of at least four different naval patrol forces (customs service, the naval militias, civil and military police units). This includes the marine arms of local police forces that have coastal areas in their jurisdiction, and many vessels that are basically merchant ships. This last element is quite different from Western practice. These MSA ships do their regular work most of the time. But if MSA headquarters radios them with a MSA mission, the ship takes off and follows its orders.
In terms of numbers of ships, the MSA is larger than the Chinese navy. But most MSA ships are small. There are several hundred 100 and 200 foot ships that appear to have a secondary role to support covert
operations in wartime. Some MSA organizations, especially the police boat units
along the coasts, have been caught engaging in piracy,
and other illegal activities. But many MSA units are well respected. This is probably because MSA takes care of safety and rescue operations. The helicopters on the two new MSA ships are probably intended for rescue work. China has an enormous number of coastal freighters, plus many more fishing boats.
Whenever there is rough weather, there's lots of rescue work. Its a state secret exactly how many ships are part of the MSA, but estimates are in the hundreds, possibly
as many as 5,000 ( if the part time ones are included.) The MSA would be mobilized in wartime, and would be a major player in any amphibious operations against Taiwan.