WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The United States will continue to sail ships on missions in international waters a Department of Defense official said March 10.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the March 8 incident in the South China Sea in which five Chinese ships surrounded USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS 23) - an unarmed Military Sealift Command vessel - won't hinder the United States from using international sea lanes.
The United States protested the Chinese activity to China's foreign ministry in Beijing and to the defense attache at the Chinese Embassy here. China rejected the U.S. protests March 10 and maintains Impeccable violated international law by sailing in the area.
The ship is an ocean surveillance vessel and was mapping the sea bottom when the Chinese ships approached. 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.
Two ships approached within 50 feet of Impeccable before the American civilian crew used fire hoses to challenge them. One of the Chinese ships approached within 25 feet of the American ship. Two Chinese trawlers then stopped directly in front of the Impeccable as it attempted to leave the area.
The Chinese allege the American ship was operating illegally in China's Economic Exclusion Zone. China claims a 125-mile zone.
"Our activities were in international waters, and we will continue to operate in international waters as appropriate," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, yesterday. "Our ships obviously operate fairly regularly in international waters where these incidents took place. We're going to continue to operate in those international waters, and we expect the Chinese to observe international law around them."
The area is about 70 miles south of Hainan Island. In 2001, two Chinese fighter aircraft challenged a U.S. Navy EP-3 patrol plane in the area. There was a collision between one of the Chinese fighters and the P-3, killing the Chinese pilot. The P-3 made an emergency landing on Hainan Island, and the Chinese detained the 24-member crew of the American patrol plane for 12 days.
For more news from around the fleet, visit www.navy.mil.