Chinese ships 'harass' USNS Impeccable
Five Chinese ships came dangerously close to an unarmed US surveillance ship in international waters, the Pentagon has said.
The US Government said the incident involving the USNS Impeccable happened on Sunday in the South China Sea after days of "increasingly aggressive conduct" by the Chinese vessels.
The ships had "aggressively manoeuvred" around the Impeccable "in an apparent co-ordinated effort to harass the US ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters", according to the Pentagon.
"This was a reckless, dangerous maneuver that was unprofessional" and violated international law, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
He said the United States would be conveying its "displeasure" to the Chinese government over the incident, which occurred on Sunday in the South China Sea, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Hainan Island.
One of the Chinese vessels came within 25 feet and at one point the Chinese crew stripped to their underwear, he said.
The Chinese also dropped pieces of wood into the water in the path of the American ship, he said.
Although the Chinese ships had no apparent military markings, the Pentagon identified them as a navy intelligence ship and four other vessels.
The US said the "increasingly aggressive conduct" in preceding days had included:
-- March 7: A PRC intelligence collection ship made a bridge to bridge call to the USNS Impeccable, calling their operations illegal and telling them to leave the area or "suffer the consequences"
-- March 5: a Chinese frigate approached the USNS Impeccable, crossing its bow within about 100 yards; about 2 hours later, a Chinese Y-12 aircraft conducted 11 fly-bys at a low altitude (about 600 yards)
-- March 4: a Chinese Bureau of Fisheries Patrol vessel used a high intensity spotlight to harass an ocean surveillance ship, the USNS Victorious, shining it on the ship and at the crew (the ship was operating about 125 nautical miles off the coast of China); the ship then crossed the Victorious' bow in darkness without warning; finally, a Chinese Y-12 surveillance aircraft conducted 12 fly-bys at a low altitude (about 400 feet).
The US has already lodged a protest with the Chinese government and it was due to be repeated with a Beijing military attache on Monday. No immediate response from the Chinese government was reported.