Tensions Set Aside for East China Sea Rescue

A "swarm" of Chinese fishing vessels off of the Senkaku chain (courtesy Japan Coast Guard)

By The Maritime Executive 08-11-2016 09:30:37

On Thursday, the Greek-flagged bulker Anangel Courage collided with a Chinese fishing vessel off the disputed Senkaku Islands, sinking the smaller ship. Japan Coast Guard units responded and rescued about half of the 14 fishermen; the search for the remaining crewmembers continues. 

The collision occurred early Thursday morning, 35 nm off of Uotsuri Island. The Courage sent a distress message, and the Japan Coast Guard responded by dispatching a SAR aircraft and a patrol boat, which rescued six men from the water.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said that China had expressed its gratitude for the rescue. Chinese state media confirmed the accident and said that the two nations’ maritime forces were coordinating in “handling the emergency.”

Japanese security forces have been on alert for the past week due to the presence of hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels just outside of Japan's maritime claims in the Senkakus, accompanied by a large number of Chinese Coast Guard ships. The Japanese government has lodged repeated protests with China regarding what it considers a provocation, and the U.S. government has also warned against “any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands."

The Japan Coast Guard issued a statement Wednesday claiming that there have been multiple incursions into Japanese waters since the fleet arrived.

Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua is said to have told the Japanese government that the fishing fleet was after a “big catch of fish” and that its presence had nothing to do with sovereignty claims.

The fleet's arrival coincides with the appointment of controversial Japanese defense minister Tomomi Inada, who is widely viewed as a hawk and a nationalist, and with a Japanese government white paper which characterized Chinese maritime policy as a source of “deep concern.”

Japan has been building out its military presence in the Senkaku chain with the installation of a new surveillance radar and has plans for new bases and troop deployments. China has protested the militarization of the islands and has responded with multiple Chinese Coast Guard transits of Japanese waters.