WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Five Chinese
vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered close to the USNS
Impeccable in the South China Sea March 8, a senior Pentagon
official said March 9.
The U.S. oceanographic ship was 70 miles
south of Hainan Island conducting routine operations in
international waters when the ships approached, Pentagon spokesman
Bryan Whitman said.
"We view these as unprofessional maneuvers by the Chinese vessels
and violations under international law to operate with due regard
for the rights and safety of other lawful users of the ocean,"
A civilian crew mans the ship, which operates under the auspices of
the Military Sealift Command.
The incident began as the ships surrounded the Impeccable and two
craft closed to within 50 feet, Whitman said. The Chinese ships
included a Chinese navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of
Maritime Fisheries patrol vessel, a State Oceanographic
Administration patrol vessel and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers.
Crewmen aboard the Impeccable used fire hoses to spray one of the
vessels as a protective measure. The Chinese crewmembers disrobed to
their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet.
The Chinese vessels dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in
the Impeccable's path, and two of the ships stopped directly in the
U.S. vessel's path, forcing it to stop.
Whitman said the Chinese used poles in an attempt to snag the
Impeccable's towed acoustic array sonars. Impeccable's master used
bridge-to-bridge radio circuits to inform the Chinese ships in a
friendly manner that it was leaving the area and requested a safe
path to navigate.
"These are dangerous close maneuvers that these vessels engaged in,"
The incident was the culmination of earlier harassment. A Chinese
patrol vessel shined a high-intensity spotlight March 4 on the USNS
Victorious operating in the Yellow Sea 125 miles from China's coast.
Chinese maritime aircraft "buzzed" the ship 12 times March 5.
A Chinese frigate crossed the bow of the Impeccable at a range of
about 100 yards March 5. Maritime aircraft buzzed the ship after
Another Chinese ship challenged Impeccable over bridge-to-bridge
radio March 7, calling its operations illegal and directing the
American ship to leave the area or "suffer the consequences,"
The Impeccable is one of five ocean surveillance ships that gather
underwater acoustical data. U.S. ships routinely
operate in the area.
"We expect Chinese ships to act responsibly and refrain from
provocative activities that could lead to miscalculation or a
collision at sea, endangering vessels and the lives of U.S. and
Chinese mariners," a Defense Department official said.
U.S. embassy officials lodged a protest against these actions with
the Foreign Ministry in China, and Defense Department officials have
protested with the Chinese embassy here.