Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chinese 'harassed' US ship

WASHINGTON - THE United States on Monday urged China to observe international maritime rules after the Pentagon said five Chinese ships, including a naval vessel, harassed a US Navy ship in international waters.

The Chinese vessels 'shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity' to the USNS Impeccable on Sunday, with one vessel coming within 25 feet (7.6 metres) of the US ship, a US Defense Department statement said.

The American ship, an unarmed ocean surveillance vessel, was conducting routine operations in the South China Sea 75 miles (120 km) south of Hainan Island, according to the Pentagon.

Defense officials said the incident followed days of increasingly aggressive Chinese conduct in the area, including fly-bys of two US Navy ships by Chinese maritime surveillance planes.

'Our ships operate fairly regularly in international waters where these incidents took place,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told a news conference.

'We are going to continue to operate in those international waters and we expect the Chinese to observe international laws around them.' The US embassy in Beijing lodged a protest on Sunday with the Chinese government, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. US defense policy officials on Monday reiterated the protest to China's defense attache in Washington.

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington did not return calls seeking comment.

'The unprofessional maneuvers by Chinese vessels violated the requirement under international law to operate with due regard for the rights and safety of other lawful users of the ocean,' Marine Corps Major Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

'We expect Chinese ships to act responsibly and refrain from provocative activities that could lead to miscalculation or a collision at sea.' The Pentagon identified the Chinese vessels in Sunday's incident as a navy intelligence ship, a bureau of maritime fisheries patrol vessel, a state oceanographic administration patrol vessel and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers.

The Impeccable is one of five ocean surveillance ships that serve with the US 7th Fleet, which is based Yokosuka, Japan. The ships use low-frequency sound to search for undersea threats including submarines, a US military official said. -- REUTERS

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