Five Chinese vessels came within 25 feet of colliding with a U.S. Naval surveillance ship in a dangerous high-seas game of chicken with the United States military surveillance ship Impeccable off the coast of Hainan Island in the South China Sea.
A U.S. Defense Department official said the Impeccable was “operating legally in international waters,” towing an underwater sonar buoy and looking for Chinese submarines. Then the U.S.S. Impeccable was shadowed and harassed by an intelligence ship, a government fisheries patrol vessel, a state oceanographic patrol vessel and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers that came within 25 feet of collision. A crew aboard one of the ships tried to use a grappling hook to snag the sonar buoy towline.
The crew aboard the U.S.S. Impeccable tried to communicate by maritime radio, but got no response. The crew then used a firehouse to deter the Chinese sailors. The Chinese sailors responded by stripping their clothes down to their underwear.
Hainan is home to the People’s Liberation Army Navy strategic nuclear submarine naval harbor built deep into the mountainside with caverns capable of hiding 20 nuclear submarines from spy satellites. The harbor is also large enough to accept aircraft carriers.
China claims the U.S.S. Impeccable was conducting an illegal survey. China announced in October 2007 that it would build its fourth space launch center on the eastern island province of Hainan. The launch center is scheduled to be completed in 2012 and to start operating in 2013. The location of the launch center in Hainan, a low-latitude region for better launch physics into orbit, will displace more than 6,000 residents.
In April 2001, three months after George W. Bush had assumed office in his first term as the President of the United States, a US spy plane collided mid-air with a Chinese fighter jet off Hainan, killing one Chinese pilot and forcing the American pilot to make an emergency landing at a Hainan air base. China released the 24-member crew after the US expressed regret.