Thursday, March 12, 2009

Discussions Aim to Resolve U.S. Ship Incident

From Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASINGTON (NNS) -- The incident in the South China Sea involving a U.S. ocean surveillance ship is serious enough to merit face-to-face discussions between U.S. and Chinese officials, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said March 11.

USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS 23) -– an unarmed Military Sealift Command vessel -- was conducting operations in international waters 70 miles south of Hainan Island on March 8 when the ship was surrounded and harassed by five Chinese vessels.

Morrell said the U.S. defense attaché in Beijing has been talking with China's defense ministry about the incident.

The Chinese defense attaché also is speaking with Defense Department officials.

"[The incident] is serious enough that we believe it requires face-to-face talks to find out what was going on here and to ensure that there are no further incidents of this nature in the future," Morrell said.

Morrell reiterated the U.S. position that Impeccable was performing its mission in international waters.

"We hope that the Chinese would behave in a similar way, that is, according to international law," he said. "Furthermore, this incident is not at all consistent with the expressed desire of both governments to build a closer relationship, particularly a closer military-to-military relationship."

The U.S. position is that if a ship is lawfully operating in international waters, "that that is legal and permitted, and there should be no … reason to interfere with those operations," Morrell said.

Officials are hopeful that the conversations between the two nations will clear up any misunderstandings about this incident and ensure it doesn't happen again, he added.