At least 14 Chinese government ships have been spotted in waters near the Senkaku Islands, but no huge armada of Chinese fishing vessels has been confirmed near the disputed islands, called Diaoyu by China, as previously feared.
Japan Coast Guard officials said 14 Chinese maritime and fishing surveillance ships had been spotted near the Senkakus on the morning of Sept. 19.
China is bent on maintaining a visible presence in the East China Sea near the islands it claims along with Japan and Taiwan, with Chinese vessels crisscrossing in and out of Japanese territorial waters the past several days. The Japanese central government ratcheted up tensions with the purchase of three of the islands from a private owner on Sept. 11.
"The surveillance ships will strengthen efforts to publicize China's sovereignty over the area by periodically sailing in waters under China's jurisdiction," Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Sept. 18.
The Japan Coast Guard had dispatched almost half of its total fleet of cutters to the waters near the Senkakus to monitor Chinese vessels in the area.
Five of the Chinese ships were navigating through the contiguous zone that lies next to Japanese territorial waters as of noon while the other nine were farther away.
On Sept. 19, two fishing surveillance ships joined the 12 ships that had been confirmed on the previous night.
One of the two fishing surveillance ships was spotted at around 7:54 a.m. on Sept. 19 in the contiguous zone about 34 kilometers north-northwest of Kubashima island. Japan Coast Guard ships radioed the vessel and instructed it not to enter territorial waters, but no response was received.
On Sept. 18, a number of the surveillance ships temporarily entered Japanese territorial waters.
Because the Senkakus are located about 170 kilometers from Ishigakijima island, the closest populated island, only the larger cutters have the capability and range to patrol in waters near those islands. Of the 121 cutters owned by the Japan Coast Guard, about 10 percent are currently undergoing repairs. The Coast Guard dispatched about 50 cutters, or about half of those operational, to the Senkakus to monitor the Chinese ships. The cutters were gathered from regional coast guard headquarters from around Japan.
Because there were reports out of China that 1,000 fishing boats were headed to the Senkakus after the Chinese government lifted a ban on fishing in the East China Sea on Sept. 16, Coast Guard officials were taking unprecedented measures to deal with the possibility.
However, while a number of Chinese fishing boats were spotted in waters near the Senkakus, it was not a large fleet.
On Sept. 18, one Yuzheng fishing surveillance ship was spotted navigating in and out of the contiguous zone around the Senkakus. From the afternoon of Sept. 18, 10 Haijian maritime surveillance ships sailed as a fleet around the Senkakus. Three of those ships temporarily entered Japanese territorial waters. Six of the 10 maritime surveillance ships were the same ones that entered territorial waters on Sept. 14.
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