Over the summer, as a U.S. Coast Guard cutter was attempting to inspect Chinese squid-fishing vessels near Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, one of the Chinese vessels turned and nearly rammed the U.S. ship as the others fled the area.
The Associated Press first reported on the incident after reconstructing the encounter with information from the Coast Guard and interviews with six U.S. non-military officials who spoke about the operation on condition of anonymity. The officials requested anonymity so as not to jeopardize an ongoing multilateral effort to convince China to sanction the fishing vessels.
According to the Associated Press reconstruction of the incident, the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter James (WSML 754) approached an area where hundreds of Chinese fishing boats were active near the Galapagos Islands. The cutter approached one group of three fishing vessels as part on inspection to determine if the ships were operating in line with fishing regulations.
U.S. coast Guard ships are allowed to board and inspect other vessels for violations of fishing regulations, though such efforts are reportedly rare.
The Associated Press reported that when the U.S. cutter approached these three Chinese squid-fishing boats, all three boats scattered and fled and one boat turned 90 degrees toward the Coast Guard cutter. As the Chinese fishing boat threatened to ram the U.S. Coast Guard ship, the ship’s crew took evasive actions to avoid the collision.
Coast Guard Lt. Hunter Stowes, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer on the cutter James, told the Associated Press, “For the most part they wanted to avoid us, but we were able to maneuver effectively so that we were safe the entire time.”
The Coast Guard operation near the Galapagos Islands was in response to concerns from Latin American governments about Chinese fishing in the area. China operates the world’s largest distant water fishing fleet.
The Associated Press reported the Chinese fishing fleet’s presence in the South Pacific has increased by eight times what it was in 2009, to about 476 vessels operating in the region last year. The size of China’s squid fishing haul has also reportedly grown from 70,000 tons to 422,000 tons in that time. Some scientists are beginning to fear that level of fishing could become unsustainable for the squid population.
China’s massive fishing efforts have added to tensions between China and other countries throughout the Pacific and the South China Sea in particular.