HMS Albion was challenged by a Chinese frigate and two helicopters during freedom of navigation exercise.

It is understood that China dispatched the frigate and two helicopters to challenge HMS Albion as it sailed through the disputed sea. Local media report that both sides remained calm during the encounter and the Royal Navy assault ship continued on course despite protests from China.

HMS Albion was understood to be conducting a freedom of navigation maneuver, Reuters reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. The ship was on its way to Ho Chi Minh City, where it docked on Monday following a deployment in and around Japan, it said. The Paracel island chain is also claimed by Vietnam, which in May asked China to end bomber aircraft drills in the area, calling it a violation of its own sovereignty.

A spokesman for the Royal Navy said:

“HMS Albion exercised her rights for freedom of navigation in full compliance with international law and norms.”

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters:

“The relevant actions by the British ship violated Chinese law and relevant international law, and infringed on China’s sovereignty. China strongly opposes this and has lodged stern representations with the British side to express strong dissatisfaction.

China strongly urges the British side to immediately stop such provocative actions, to avoid harming the broader picture of bilateral relations and regional peace and stability. China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security”.

Albion is one of three British warships sent to the region to signify the UK doesn’t recognise the hotly disputed and according to some, excessive, Chinese claims in the region.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson had earlier said that the warships will outline the “critical” importance of defending freedom-of-navigation in the region during a speech in Singapore.

“The reason that they are here and the reason that we are visiting is to send the strongest of signals,” he said, addressing Royal Navy sailors. We believe that countries should play by the rules.

This is even more important at a time when storm clouds are gathering and regional fears are rising, when more nations have nuclear and chemical weapons, not to mention the infringement of regional access, freedoms and security.”

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Geoffrey Roach

Keep calm, keep sailing. Well done everyone.

andy reeves

i’d be happier if the ship was ‘armed up’ plenty of room on these ships for a gun or ceptor silo


Let’s hope they don’t send a squad of marines in a RIB to get captured – like they managed to do in the Persian Gulf a few years ago. Hopefully they would actually defend themselves if under threat.

P tattersall

Stephen your becoming a obvious russian anti uk troll

David Steeper

P tattersall the obvious ones are there to distract you from the less obvious ones.


Interesting that the Chinese say that it was us violating international law, despite the fact as fact that it’s they who are illegally seizing other nations waters. Granted, no one expects them to come out and SAY what they’re doing is illegal, but trying to keep up the pretence is amusing to say the least


The PLAN certainly has the assets now to back up its actions in the SCS. It’s stepping up the pressure in the ECS against the Taiwanese and the Japanese. This isn’t going to end well IMO and China’s inability to play well with its neighbors is going to be the progenitor of the next war in the region.



H wrote:
“The PLAN certainly has the assets now to back up its actions in the SCS. “
It certainly looks that way and as Julian (below stated regards stating an untruth, people actually believe that the Chinese coast guard is a coast guard

andy reeves

i’d hope our u.s allies, not too far away, off korea would back us up if needed


Unfortunaly any conflict is unlikly to remain Regional in nature and would potentially be the catalyst for a very significant and elongated period of conflict that may just match 1914- 1953.


Echoes of Japanese strategy in 1930s/1940s which obviously didn’t end well. Islands to create a buffer with the US Navy – fixed points unlikely to survive the first wave of SSGN launched missiles. The carriers are a step forward, as are potentially the Type 055 escorts, but not comparable with US CVN, and their subs are still v.noisy. Swarms of Houbei FAC could be a threat but only if China had air superiority, which seems questionable. China always looks longer-term – they won’t start a crisis with the US over SCS, as they would lose, but will be interesting to… Read more »


It is possible though, that a crisis could happen before then – not a conscious decision on the part of China to test the US militarily, but rather due a trade war that spirals out of control.


Sadly it’s become the way of the world – say an untruth enough times and with enough conviction and a disturbing percentage of the public start to automatically assume that it is the truth. The Chinese (and other governments) are sophisticated enough to know that such statements are primarily aimed at the general public of whatever country they are in disagreement with rather than that country’s government itself.


I thought this went to international Court and China lost. Sucking up to Chinese money and casting a blind eye over their devious acquisition of territory. I admire the RN for challenging China, I wish our our pollies would do the same and tell the Chinese where to stick it.


China has two expressions, one is open for business, the other wishes to exercise military flex especially in the South China Seas. The possibility she is building a navy with the potential for global reach, must be a wake up call! When all the nonsense about building the two new Queen Elisabeth carries was at its height, those who believed they were a waste of money, would have denied the RN the capability to post such vessels on a global basis. At the time I wrote of the pending expansion of both Chines and Russian navies, and how that could… Read more »


So an unescorted assault ship was used to annoying China with a freedom of navigation work, seriously highlighting the lack of capability / depth of the navy.

Geoffrey Roach

I really don’t think we were trying to start a war Steve, just making a point. We could have sent a tug.


You don’t make a point unless you are capable of following through. It’s like walking up to a big guy and poking him, hoping he won’t hit back. We aren’t trying to start a war but going into territory that they think belongs to them can be considered as an act of war and so they would be in their rights (from their perspective) to seize the ship or even sink it. Unlikely to happen but not a zero chance


It’s a big ship ill-equipped to defend itself from air attack & ASMs, unequipped v submarines or surface ships. So that big ship & it’s 400 RMs could be sunk by ASMs/bombs/torpedoes or surface gunfire with little or zero defence. Now that’s quite unlikely, but not impossible. The PLAN could simply send 1 corvette or frigate(even a ASM equipped fast attack vessel) & force its capture. Much more embarrasing than a RIB of marines being held. Challenge the PRC here yes, oppose their annexation & building of military bases there, absolutely, but don’t send an unprotected LPD to do it… Read more »


Wonder what was hanging around underneath …

Leo Jones

Could an Astute stop a fast patrol boat attack?
A Lynx with Sea Skua used to be able to but we did not bother to arm the Merlins for that did we?


Said LPD has Phalanx fore and aft which replaced Goalkeeper during the last refit. It has Close range 20mm guns , mini guns, 50 cals and GPMGs . It has the torpedo decoy system fitted. The Royals onboard have lots of toys to play with…such as Javelin and very possibly Star Streak. I was on Albion’s sister ship in the Far east for Cougar 09 with pretty much the same armaments. It wasn’t an issue then and it wont be now. Although we did manage to find a nuclear submarine with the Torpedo Decoy Systems acoustic array…now that is a… Read more »


It’s also a 20,000 tonne vessel with 400+ RM on board. She is allowed to sail anywhere inside that freedom of the seas area. What do you think China would do? They are not alone out there, do remember that 1, They are legally entitled to sail there. 2, They have many allies in said reason. 3, The UK is a Nato member. 4, The UK, along with America have the only two navies on earth that force project globally. China can moan as much they like, but a strengthening India, a resurgent Japan, a very quickly modernising RN and… Read more »


Not to mention a very quickly modernizing and expanding RAN. Their new OPV looks pretty good – probably could stand in as a corvette during combat ops…


Andy G

12 submarines, 8 frigates, three destroyers, 12 OPVs, two amphibious assault ships and associated MPAs, helicopters and unmanned assets.

40 year plan.


V.impressive longterm plan. Different force mix. Than the RN, but then different challenges/remit.


You don’t send large forces to do such things as they are far more provocative rather than simply making a point as they did here. If they sent a full attack force I think it would more likely end up with conflict rather than the positive outcome that is intended.

The RN were not trying to start a fight. They were saying “We can and we will sail though these waters as we are legally entitled to do”. They did that successfully.

John Hampson

I was on an oil rig, 60 to 70 miles off the Malaysia coast in 2013 and 2014.When we moved locations we were shadowed by a Chinese Coastguard corvette and a PLAN destroyer. On arrival, the Chinese would inform us that we were in Chinese waters, without permission and should depart. During this time a Chinese amphibious task force held exercises at James Shoal. The Commander told his force to be prepared to fight to defend China’s territory. (Text of speech reported on Beijing TV.) The shoal is 50 miles off the Malaysian coast. Hainan Island, the nearest Chinese coast… Read more »


Their argument is the waters that they are claiming has their country’s name in it (South China Sea, East China Sea) therefore it is theirs. By their same logic, the Indian Ocean is the territorial waters of India…


Surely the UK should annex all “English breakfasts” then….


does this mean England owns all the water up to the port of Calais????
The French won’t like that

David E Flandry

Just quickly build some “islands” in the English Channel. Then annex New Britain, New England, etc.


By that logic the United States of America just got a lot larger. Bye bye Canada, Mexico, Brazil and everyone else in North and South America. All because of one initial.


Just for reference, the Philippines refer to this area as the “West Phillipines Sea”.


It’s an interesting state of affairs that these “right of navigation” voyages have a back drop of Trade deal aspirations with the Chinese. May not be too relevant for now but if the ante is increased, we could be shooting ourselves in the foot.


The sad truth is that another major war is almost certainly inevitable. Reason and diplomacy never prevail-WW1 was sparked by one madman admittedly in a time of heightened tensions. WW2 was largely down to another madman-think about it-it only took one sick, twisted psychopath. Today we have Putin,Trump,Assad and a few others. Throw in to that mix an accidental firing of a nuke, a madman with the keys and codes who wants to make a point a-la-suicide bombing and all the ingredients are there

David E Flandry

Senior military officers of People’s Republic of China, two lies in one, have been talking about their war plans for over a decade. Take out Taiwan, any foreign forces that are close to the first line of islands, and any one in the SCS area.

To put Trump in the group with Assad and Putin is ridiculous.


What are the chances that the RN could start basing ships in Singapore? I think that having a small squadron based out of Singapore will send a bigger message than sailing a lone ship through the SCS every 6 months.


Sure, just need to increase the escort fleet to say 30, including 12 T26s, 12 T31s, and 6 T45s.

Not going to happen I’m afraid.


If the Type 31 proves to be a success and more than 5 are ordered in the future for the RN (as has been hinted previously) then its not inconceivable that we could start basing them overseas (Bahrain, Singapore etc).

Andy G

How about Brunei?

I think we have money for ports now.


Either would be good move in my opinion. I agree with Chris that a few more type 31’s could be possible, and pretty much necessary if Britain is going to maintain the ability to project globally


Luring out a DF-21D strike is actually a VERY good idea right now… just not at Albion 🙁

Better to have something with SM-3 or decent EW as I doubt Aster30 will provide much defence.


‘and relevant international law’

Oh this is too rich coming from China, the one who took it to the international court, lost, then threw a hissy fit saying they were going to ignore the ruling.


It’s right that the rest of the world challanges the PRC’s bullying of the world to try to acheive aquiessence of their annexation of the long disputed Paracel Islands. However, sending a virtually unarmed amphibious dock ship such as the Albion to do so is reckless in the extreme. I only hope she was escorted by warships capable of both protecting her & defending themselves had the PRC taken the confrontation further. Otherwise it seems like a sick game of Russian roullette with little regard to the hundreds of crewmen & women on board. The PRC should never have bucked… Read more »


No it would be reckless to send a more potent force as this would be too provocative and could lead to conflict. The Chinese are not going to attack a RN ship in legally international waters even if they claim they are territorial waters as they know the weight of the world is not behind them. Sending a less protected ship actually sends a bigger message of “We are not afraid to sail here”.

We want to send a message not start a war.


I wonder where the Astutes were?


Our Astutes could do nothing against Chinese jets armed with bombs or anti ship missiles.


Yes, but they’d be quite effective against one frigate.


Try replaying this scenario in 10-15 years and I guarantee they would either seize the ship or take potshots at it. The west needs to wake up now and start preparing for Chinese dominance, and if we want to play this game now then make sure there is at least a frigate or destroyer with her. Or up gun the amphibs

Nigel Collins

First Type 26 due in 2027, no sign of the Type 23e on the horizon, and a limited amount of Type45’s.

First deployment of the QE scheduled for 2021 and China building weapons platforms like no tomorrow. Not very smart to piss on the shoes of a far superior force unless you have the numbers to back it up with!

Forget the build quality, it’s the sheer amount of weapons that count!


All this naval willy waving is becoming rather tiresome. I see that HMS Albion is causing a diplomatic incident in the South China seas by deliberately and provocatively sailing close to the Chinese controlled Paracel islands to dispute Chinese sovereignty. This at a time when we, a fadibg power, have outposts like Diego Garcia. I wonder what the Chagossian refugees think about this troubling double standards. The Chinese are threatening ‘broader consequences’ to UK-Chinese relations at a vulnerable time when we are looking hungrily at other major economies for post Brexit deals. Today, economic power is the true indicator of… Read more »


Ooh… Iqbal’s learnt how to copy and paste the laughably misguided drivel he posted on


The difference between Diego Garcia and the South China Sea is that the U.K. Isn’t stealing £billions in the form of natural resources and fish stock from poorer nations who can’t defend their EEZ. After having just looked into the issue briefly, the UK government paid a total of £4.65 million to 426 families who were displaced. Do you think the Chinese government is going to be paying billions in compensation to the local fisherman who can no longer fish the reefs they used to? What about compensation for the billions in revenue that other governments are missing out on… Read more »


Not testing the PLAN response would have been seen as acquiescing to Chinese claims to these waters.

Patrick Barr

For all the posters that think China would start a war over this, they obviously don’t have a grasp of international relations and play too much call of duty.

A war would never break out over something so triva, but China should always be reminded they cannot do whatever they like. Even if they think they own that entire sea.

Britain as one of the main military and economic powers has and will continue to have every right to sail ships through international waters. Anybody that thinks differently should have their heads examined.

David Taylor

Yes. This is true face of maritime security. This sort of action goes on all the time. Sometimes allies will act up. What goes on at sea for the most part remains hidden from the gaze of the public.


Not sure why some commentators are concerned with the type of ship the RN used, the piont is that the UK through the RN has the capacity and will to make the piont that it will not allow China to break apart the LOS conventions (something that the UK effectively created) and that it will undertake feedom of navigation no matter the view or unilateral actions of some nations. What protects Albion is not something as tenuous as a frigate escort, which in reality if China wanted a war would be no protection at all against the PLAN in its… Read more »


We are a fair few steps aware from war, but one of them steps is to cease by force a lightly armed ship operating in waters they consider (and this is backed up by international definitions, even if its pushing it) theirs. This will be followed by a lot of political posturing and eventually the crew being released.

Russia shooting down the U2 plane didn’t start WW3 and neither would them sinking Albion.


I’m not saying we are close to this, but it is a step that will come as a surprise when it happens and do we really want it to be an under armed / escorted assault ship.


Steve if Chinas leadership lost its collective mind the albion is not a ship they could seize as I’m sure the Crew and RM contingent would have a lot to say about that, they would instead need to use deadly force against the Albion which would inevitably lead to war, we would have to respond in kind. Simple reality is no matter its investment in its ( regional based ) armed forces China is in no position to take on the west (at present) in a major shooting war, it would inevitably loose. Not because the west could force some… Read more »


Your over simplifying it by thinking it would lead to war. We know we couldn’t win a war against China and so instead we would go down the posturing route. Same when Russia shot down the U2 or when there were multiple other isolated military acts by both sides. War is a step that no one wants between nuclear powers.


Steve, the shooting down of a U2 which was over Russian airspace or engaging in A minor deniable action is completely different to a nation openly attacking another nations major warships it would have to end in war, if the UK let it go we would lose all international credibility as a major power. You say we could not militarily defeat China, very true, but neither could China military defeat the UK, we can deny China most of the Atlantic and med, they can deny us the Pacific, neither nation can use nuclear black mail on the other, or operate… Read more »

Jim R

Imagine if the PLAN had sent a boarding party across and found they were confronted by 400 Marines! Talk about a loss of face.


Don’t be so sure about that. Shooting one man started a world war.


A lot of people commenting on this thread seem to think if a country claims a huge stretch of sea thousands of miles from its own coast with no legitimate claims we should sail there in case we upset them. Complete idiots. This is no different from a neighbour claiming they own the entire street therefore don’t park your car there. If they are bigger than you are you just going to do what your told.


Should not*


Meanwhile off the Falklands: Royal Navy confronts Argentine vessel ‘snooping for oil’ near Falkland Islands n Argentine ship has been caught in Falklands waters ‘snooping for oil’, the Royal Navy has revealed. HMS Clyde was scrambled to see off a ship from the Argentine navy thought to be prodding military defences in seas off the Falkland Islands on September 2. The Argentinian survey ship, ARA Puerto Deseado, switched off her satellite tracker and sailed up to the edge of British territorial waters on Sunday afternoon. The Royal Navy patrol vessel stationed in the Falkland Islands, HMS Clyde, reacted swiftly after… Read more »


Read your own comment there “up to the edge of British territorial waters”, that is not entering our waters.

Mountain out of a mole hill.

Argentina are currently no threat, their military is a mess and even if they could put their troops on commercial ships, ferry them across the ocean and take out Clyde (probably not hard as only an OPV), they would be in no position to hold the islands even without carriers, their air force is non existant and their land forces significantly under resourced / trained.


Clyde is there for constabulary purposes (like warning off little lost trespassers). RAF Mount pleasant and Atlantic patrol tasking south on the other hand are the hard edge of the U.K. military in the south Atlantic and is pretty much the most potent single permanent military presence in the region, perfectly able to take apart the Argentinian military if it ever tried anything other than this sort of stunt.


The hard edge is not there anymore. The routine frigate / destroyer in the area was cut back due to lack of hulls. The defences there are batch 1 typhoons with very limited capability to attack sea or land targets, and the 100 odd infranty units there (ok the other several hundred soldiers could pick up a gun and fight but not their main role), a rapier battery (rapier is too out dated to be effective against semi modern jets) plus of course Clyde. Really the main defence is the airport and here ability to fly in reinforcements but whether… Read more »


This is something I never understood. How could the Typhoons engage argentine ships with no air to ground weapons or anti ship missiles. Do they just drop paveway’s on them? Argentina clearly doesn’t have any military capacity left but I don’t think mount pleasant is the impenetrable fortress it’s made out to be.


Since a Paveway II has CEP of just ove 3m and and effective range of 12 miles, flight 1435 is an effective defends of the islands against any realistic regional threat for the time it would take to re-enforce the island.

Nigel Collins

Just another example of why we need to be building up our armed forces. Nothing to worry about in this case, but next time?

I seem to remember shortly after the Falklands war cries of “we must never allow our armed forces to be reduced to this level again” but look where we are now!

“However, he said “the maritime domain is increasingly contested globally and this incident shows how the Navy is increasingly being pulled in all sorts of directions at the same time with limited resources”.”

If you appear to be weak….

John Hampson

It seems to me that a lot of the posts are missing the most important factor. If China succeeds in annexing the SCS it will be a defeat for the rule of international law. The same can be said about Salisbury and to a lesser extent Crimea. ( Hopefully Idlib will not be the next on the list). China and Russia are not just flouting the rule of law, their success may encourage both them and also other nations to employ force to further national interests. Last time law abiding states tried a policy of appeasement things did not go… Read more »


No it’s not. If I understand the topic correctly, China is using internationally agreed definitions of territorial waters to take control of the area. It’s like Amazon paying so little tax in the UK, we might not like it but they are just following the rules that we put in place. Are China exploiting international law by creating islands, then yes but that is not breaking it. We have one of the largest amount of territal waters in the world currently, so could the same argument be made against us? All I am saying is the topic is far more… Read more »

John Hampson

Steve. In 2016 The Permanent Court Of Arbitration in The Hague agreed unanimously that China violated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (CLOS) and its occupation of atolls violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights. China claims the SCS to within 12 miles of the Malaysian Coast, even though its nearest coast, Hannan Island is 1000 miles away. China refuses to recognise the 200 mile EEZ’s of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan that the CLOS grants


There is another issue at play. The US started challenging the Chinese through freedom of navigation exercises several years ago. Then they got the Japanese to do it, then the Australians. The French did their bit recently (with RN Wildcats onboard) and now the RN turns up. Everyone sending a message that we’re going to challenge them. Its not going to change Chinese behaviour in the long term but it will be a message that lines are being drawn and you’re not going to have it all your own way. Irrespective of the ship used, this was a good op.… Read more »

Kari Reinikainen

Might the incident in South Atlantic that involved an Argentinian vessel have been encouraged by China?