China's largest fishery administration ship reached the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea yesterday on a mission to strengthen fishery protection and maritime surveillance after an incident between Chinese vessels and a US navy ship a week ago.
Converted from a retired Chinese navy rescue vessel, the China Yuzheng 311 set sail from Guangzhou last Tuesday.
"The ship was sent to safeguard the country's maritime rights and enhance fishery protection in the exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea," Liu Tianrong, vice-inspector of the Administration for Fishing Affairs and Fishing Ports on the South China Sea, was quoted by Shanghai-based Dragon TV as saying on Saturday.
At 4,450 tons, the 13.5-m-long and 15.5-m-wide ship is the largest of the fishery administration's fleet and can reach a maximum speed of 20 knots (37 km) per hour, the report said.
It will "protect fishing vessels around Nansha, Xisha and Zhongsha islands in China's southernmost maritime territory, and demonstrate Beijing's sovereignty over China's islands", director-general of the administration Wu Zhuang said last week as the ship departed for the South China Sea.
Su Hao, head of China Foreign Affairs University's Asia-Pacific research center, said the move was important in conveying a message to the world.
"The move not only reflects China's determination to safeguard its maritime interests but also shows China is prepared to protect its rights and interests in a rational and moderate way," Chinanews.com quoted him as saying.
He pointed out that the country could have sent monitoring vessels or even warships but instead exercised moderation by sending a fishery ship.
China dispatched the ship after a March 8 incident between a US spy ship and Chinese vessels.
The US said five Chinese ships had harassed the USNS Impeccable in international waters of the South China Sea.
The Foreign Ministry said the USNS Impeccable was inside China's exclusive economic zone at that time, and had violated international and Chinese laws.
The Associated Press last Friday quoted an anonymous US defense official as saying the US had assigned the heavily armed destroyer Chung-Hoon to escort the USNS Impeccable as it continued operations in the South China Sea.