Chinese ships surrounded and harassed a Navy mapping ship in international waters off China, at one point coming within 25 feet of the American boat and strewing debris in its path, the Defense Department said Monday. The Obama administration said it would continue naval operations in the South China Sea, most of which China considers its territory, and protested to China about what it called reckless behavior that endangered lives.
At one point during the incident Sunday the unarmed USNS Impeccable turned fire hoses on an approaching Chinese ship in self defense, the Pentagon said. At another point a Chinese ship played chicken with the Americans, stopping dead in front of the Impeccable as it tried to sail away, forcing the civilian mariners to slam on the brakes.
"We view these as unprofessional maneuvers" and a violation of international law, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
The incident had overtones of spycraft, but the U.S. ship is not, strictly speaking, a spy ship. It maps the ocean floor with sonar, compiling information the Navy can use to steer its own submarines or track those of other nations.
The Impeccable was specifically designed to augment the Navy's anti-submarine capability, although military spokesmen would not be specific about the ship's duties when it was surrounded.
A Pentagon accounting of the confrontation documents the actions of the startled and cornered American crew as a Chinese vessel closed to within 25 feet. Pictures released by the Navy give a sense of the surreal scene: The Chinese mariners had stripped to their underwear following the blast by the Impeccable's fire hoses.
Whitman called that "immature," and said the confrontation was the most aggressive of a series of incidents recently in the same area.
Impeccable's crew radioed to tell the Chinese ships that it was leaving the area and requested a safe path to navigate, the Pentagon said.
But two of the Chinese ships stopped directly ahead of the Impeccable, forcing it to an emergency stop, the U.S. account said. The Chinese also dropped pieces of wood in the water in Impeccable's path....
Quite unprofessional behavior by the PLN in international waters.