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US blocks vessels from area near balloon shoot down

US officials say a suspected Chinese spy balloon was 60 metres tall and have imposed a security zone in the waters off South Carolina where it was shot down.

State of the Union What to Watch The Pentagon says the US navy is leading a recovery mission after a Chinese balloon was shot down.
February 7, 2023
7 February 2023

The United States Coast Guard says it is imposing a temporary security zone in the waters off Surfside Beach, South Carolina in the area where the US military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

The 10 nautical mile area security zone blocks vessels from entering without permission of the Coast Guard and is intended to protect the public “from potential hazards associated with physical objects”.

The zone is to be enforced through February 18.

The Pentagon told reporters on Saturday the US navy was leading a recovery mission but said the duration of the operation was unknown. 

The navy has divers and unmanned vessels to retrieve the remnants of the balloon.

“Recovery options will seek to recover all debris and any material of intelligence value,” a senior defence official told reporters. 

A US military official said there were multiple US navy vessels and Coast Guard vessels in the region on Saturday “establishing a security perimeter, conducting search for any debris that may be on the water to ensure the safety of US civilians”.

The debris is mostly in 14 metres of water, the Pentagon said.

“The recovery that will make it fairly easy, actually. We planned for much deeper water,” the military official said.

Meanwhile, the senior general responsible for bringing down the balloon said on Monday the military had not detected previous spy balloons before the one that appeared on January 28 over the US and called it an “awareness gap”.

The Pentagon said over the weekend that Chinese spy balloons had briefly flown over the US at least three times during president Donald Trump’s administration and one previously under President Joe Biden.

Air Force General Glen VanHerck, head of US North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northern Command, said the balloon was 60 metres tall and the payload under it weighed a couple thousand pounds.

“I will tell you that we did not detect those threats, and that’s a domain awareness gap,” VanHerck said.

He added that US intelligence determined the previous flights after the fact based on “additional means of collection” of intelligence without offering further details on whether that might be cyber espionage, telephone intercepts or human sources.

A US Air Force fighter jet shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday, a week after it first entered US airspace and triggered a dramatic – and public – spying saga that worsened US-Chinese relations.

VanHerck did not rule out that there could have been explosives on the balloon.

Multiple fighter and refuelling aircraft were involved in the mission, but only one -an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia – took the shot at 2.39pm, using a single AIM-9X supersonic heat-seeking, air-to-air missile.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Nin confirmed on Monday that a large balloon discovered over Colombia also belonged to China.

The Chinese government claimed that the balloon serves “civilian purposes” and was simply on the wrong track, an argument officials in Beijing used to explain the first balloon’s position over the US.

with DPA

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