China sends ship "to protect sovereignty" in disputed sea

Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:30am GMT

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING, Jun (Reuters) - China sent one of its biggest civilian maritime patrol ships into the South China Sea to protect its "rights and sovereignty," official media said on Thursday, a move likely to raise tensions with neighbours staking rival claims to waters thought to hold reserves of oil and gas.

The Chinese Maritime Safety Administration's Haixun 31 left south China on Wednesday and will head for Singapore, passing near the Paracel and Spratly island groups at the heart of disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and other governments.

Chinese news reports were plain about the intent of the trip and the news drew concern from the Philippines.

"Our country's biggest maritime patrol ship patrols the South China Sea," said a headline in the official Beijing Daily.

The Haixun 31 would monitor shipping, carry out surveying, inspect oil wells and "protect maritime security," the paper said -- steps that could lead to confrontation with other countries pressing claims in the sea.

It also said it would carry out inspections of foreign vessels anchored or operating in waters claimed by China.

The Haixun 31 is one of two civilian ships the same size which lack the heavy firepower of naval vessels.

But it is also one of China's most advanced maritime patrol vessels, weighing in with a displacement of 3,000 tonnes. It has a helicopter pad and can stay at sea for 40 days travelling at 18 knots, the Beijing Daily said.   Continued...

<p>Activists holding placards and banners chant slogans during a demonstration outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila's Makati financial district June 16, 2011, against what Manila sees as Chinese intrusions into the Spratly Islands territories claimed by the Philippines. China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territory in the South China Sea, parts of which are believed to be sitting on huge deposits of oil and gas. REUTERS/Erik de Castro</p>
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