May 5, 2009 / 2:09 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. says Chinese fishing vessels confront Navy ship

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Chinese fishing vessels confronted a U.S. Navy surveillance ship in the Yellow Sea, prompting the American ship to call for help to a nearby Chinese military vessel, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The incident, the fifth of its kind in two months, occurred last Friday in international waters about 170 miles from the Chinese mainland when the fishing vessels approached the USNS Victorious, defense officials said.

Defense officials said the Chinese vessels came within 30 yards of the Victorious at one point.

The Pentagon, which accused five Chinese fishing vessels of harassing another U.S. surveillance ship in the South China Sea in March, cited the incident as an example of unsafe Chinese seamanship.

"We're exploring ways to handle this diplomatically," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. "What is clear is that it is unsafe and dangerous behavior and it needs to be addressed."

The Victorious, a 3,384-ton (3069-tonne) ocean surveillance ship designed for anti-submarine warfare and underwater mapping, was conducting what the Pentagon called routine operations in the waters between China and the Korean peninsula when the two fishing vessels appeared.

The Victorious operates under the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command with a crew of 24 private contractors and eight military personnel, according to a Navy website.

The Pentagon said the intentions of the Chinese fishing vessels remain unknown.

The Victorious sounded an alarm and turned on its fire hoses to ward off the vessels. But they did not withdraw until a Chinese military ship, identified by the Pentagon as WAGOR 17, arrived in response to the American assistance call and shined a light on the fishing vessels.

"WAGOR 17 took positive steps, pursuant to their obligation under Article 94 of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, to ensure their flagged vessels navigate safely," a Pentagon statement said.

Chinese ships and aircraft routinely navigate near U.S. Navy ships that operate regularly in the Yellow Sea, the statement added.

The Pentagon in March accused Chinese vessels of harassing the ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island, the reported site of a Chinese submarine base.

At the time, U.S. officials lodged a protest with Beijing and said Chinese actions in the region were becoming increasingly aggressive.

U.S. Defense Chief Robert Gates later played down the incident by saying he hoped the problem could be addressed through diplomatic exchanges.

Editing by Bill Trott

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