Washington: Chinese ships surrounded and harassed a US Navy mapping ship in international waters off China, at one point coming within 25 feet (8 meters) of the American boat and strewing debris in its path, US Defense Department said on 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 behaviour that endangered lives.
At one point during the incident on 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 manoeuvres` and a violation of international law, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The incident had overtones of spy craft, but the US 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.
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Image: The military Sealift Command ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable is seen underway on March 9, 2009. The ship is one of five ocean surveillance ships that are part of the 25 ships in the Military Sealift Command Special Mission Ships Program.