China sends largest fishery patrol ship to Spratlys

Posted at 03/22/2013 4:19 PM | Updated as of 03/23/2013 9:50 AM

BEIJING -- China said Friday it has sent a new patrol ship, the largest in its fishery administration fleet, to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on a "law enforcement mission".

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the 4,950-ton "Yuzheng 312" left Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, at 10:30 a.m. to begin its maiden patrol of the Spratlys, which are known in China as the Nansha Islands.

Xinhua said the ship, which other Chinese media have described as a converted former oil tanker of the navy's East China Sea Fleet, has a navigation capability of 2,400 nautical miles with a maximum speed of 14 knots.

China has over the last year been beefing up its patrols around the Spratly Islands, which are claimed in whole by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Xinhua noted that early last month, the South China Sea Fishery Bureau under the Ministry of Agriculture announced that patrols will be conducted on a daily basis in the South China Sea from next year to safeguard the "legitimate interests" of Chinese fishermen.

"A noticeable improvement will be seen in our enforcement capacity in the next two years, as the bureau has entered a period of rapid development," the bureau's chief Wu Zhuang was quoted as saying then.

According to the China Daily, the country's fishery administration began exploring ways to better protect fishermen's interests in the South China Sea in 2012, as rows between Chinese fishermen and naval vessels of neighboring countries constantly flared up in the area.

"Thanks to our more frequent patrols and quicker responses, no Chinese vessels engaging in normal fishery operations in the Nansha waters were illegally seized by foreign countries last year," Wu said, noting that the bureau's fishery patrol ships stayed at sea for a record high of 183 days on average.