Chinese Vessels Make Aggressive Moves on U.S. Ship

March 10, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
A crewmember on a Chinese trawler uses a grapple hook in an apparent attempt to snag the towed acoustic array of the military Sealift Command ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)
A crewmember on a Chinese trawler uses a grapple hook in an apparent attempt to snag the towed acoustic array of the military Sealift Command ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

According to a news story issued by the American Forces Press Service on Monday, five Chinese vessels, including a Chinese navy intelligence ship, made aggressive moves and shadowed a U.S. Navy ship in the South China Sea, in international territory.

The incident occurred on Sunday, 70 miles south of Hainan Island. The USNS Impeccable is a U.S. oceanographic ship that is manned by a civilian crew, which operates under the auspices of the Military Sealift Command. The incident began as the Chinese ships surrounded the Impeccable and two craft closed to within 50 feet, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

“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,” 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.

As the Chinese ships moved closer the crew of the Impeccable used fire hoses to spray water on the crew of the Chinese ships. The Chinese crew then stripped down to their underwear, and then came as close as 25 feet to the Impeccable.

The crew of the Chinese vessels also dropped pieces of wood in the path of the Impeccable, attempted to snag its towed acoustic array sonar, and two of the ships stopped directly in its path, forcing it to stop.

Impeccable’s master then 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.
The aggressive maneuvers are apparently part of an ongoing series of challenges between Chinese and U.S. ships in these waters. Several incidents have occurred over the last weeks.

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 on March 5.

A Chinese frigate crossed the bow of the Impeccable at a range of about 100 yards on March 5.

Another Chinese ship challenged the 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,” officials said.

As reported by Phoenix TV, the Chinese embassy in Washington issued a response that the U.S. has been “conducting illegal surveying” in the South China Sea, and that Beijing will issue a formal statement about the incident. Phoenix TV has signed an agreement to move from Hong Kong to Beijing.