Tensions between the U.S. and China are heating up on many fronts, and that includes altercations on the high seas in international waters.
The AP is reporting that it has learned through non-military sources that during a 10-day August mission the U.S. Coast Guard cutter “James” had an unsettling encounter with several Chines commercial squid fishing boats off the coast of Ecuador.
According to the AP, the 418-foot “James” (based out of Charleston) approached hundreds of Chinese fishing boats near Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. The Coast Guard was there to inspect commercial boats for illegal activity.
U.S. ships boarding foreign vessels is legal in international waters, says the AP, though seldom is done by nations to protect fish resources in open waters.
As the “James” approached the Chinese squid fishing boats, several of the smaller Chinese boats motored away quickly. However, one boat turned aggressively toward the U.S. ship, requiring the cutter to avoid being rammed by the Chinese fishing boat.
“For the most part they wanted to avoid us,” said Lt. Hunter Stowes of the “James” crew. “But we were able to maneuver effectively so that we were safe the entire time.”
The confrontation, however, is a dangerous breach of maritime practice that the U.S. believes may be foretelling about the Chinese behavior toward this, the first-time U.S. mission to halt illegal fishing practices by foreign vessels in the Pacific Ocean.
The AP says that Chinese officials accused the American cutter of acting improperly, but they didn’t explain how.
China’s long-range fishing fleet has been concerning for many years by many nations around the globe, as their boats work ocean waters for many months at a time. Further, the Chinese fleet has hugely increased in number. Over the last 15 years their long-range boats has increased by 800 percent, now numbering nearly 500 vessels, reports the AP.
Many such Chines commercial boats target squid in the fertile Pacific Ocean near South America, with their catching growing in recent years by 600 percent. Their annual take has exploded from 70,000 tons of squid to 422,000 tons, an unsustainable number to the open-ocean fishery resource of squid.
The foreign long-range boats from the Orient are targeting waters far from their home ports because they have depleted fish stocks in those waters. Thus U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats have moved into near-America waters to enforce international protections governing ocean fish.
The Chinese foreign ministry told the AP that, “The behavior of the United States is unsafe, opaque, and unprofessional. We demand that the U.S. stop its dangerous and erroneous inspection activities.”