US Navy Ship Harassed By Chinese Vessels

On Sunday, a US Navy surveillance ship was harassed by five Chinese vessels 75 miles off the coast of Hainan, a Chinese island south of the mainland.   The Chinese flotilla included a naval intelligence ship, two trawlers, a patrol boat and an oceanographic ship.  The Chinese craft reportedly sailed within 25 feet of the USS Impeccable, waved flags and ordered it to leave the area.  When the Impeccable requested safe transit, two of the Chinese ships blocked its path while Chinese sailors tried to hook the cables that were towing the American vessel’s sonar equipment.  The Impeccable’s crew responded by spraying the Chinese sailors with a fire hose. 


A Pentagon spokesman described the Chinese actions as “reckless, dangerous and unprofessional.”


The US Embassy in Beijing filed a formal protest, and the Department of Defense complained to the Chinese defense attaché in Washington.  Navy officials said that the incident was a violation of standard rules of conduct at sea.


At a briefing in Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said “The US claims are gravely in contravention of the facts and confuse black and white, and they are totally unacceptable to China.”  He said the Impeccable had “conducted activities in China’s special economic zone in the South China Sea without China’s permission.”


The US and other countries consider the place where the incident occurred to be in international waters.  Under the laws of the sea, any area more than 12 miles offshore of any nation’s territory is considered international waters.  Economic exclusion zones are areas of water within 200 miles of a nation’s territory, and nations have exclusive rights to any oil, natural gas or minerals found in their special economic zone.  Given that the Impeccable was 75 miles off the coast of Hainan when the harassment took place, it was in international waters and therefore had the right to sail freely.


The Impeccable was conducting a surveillance mission related to anti-submarine warfare when it was approached by the Chinese vessels.  The Chinese military has been building a new fleet of diesel-powered attack submarines that could be used against the US in a confrontation over Taiwan or elsewhere.  In 2006, one of China’s Song-class submarines shadowed the American aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and remained undetected until it surfaced within torpedo range of the ship, according to Navy officials. 


The detection and destruction of Chinese submarines would likely be the most critical task for the Navy in any battle with its Chinese counterpart.



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