BEIJING - A fleet of Chinese boats prepared to fish and a naval patrol conducted drills near disputed islands in the South China Sea, state media reported Tuesday.
State-run broadcaster CCTV said 24 fishing boats arrived Monday, after a 7-day voyage, in waters near the Spratly Islands, which are claimed all or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
"Tonight we plan to have four fishing ships sent into the water for fishing. For tomorrow we plan (to send) two boats for fishing operations. Of the four boats, two will be deep sea fishing, and the other two will carry out mid-level water fishing," the fleet's supply ship captain Chen Rihai told CCTV on Monday.
More ships are due to join the fleet on Wednesday (May 15), CCTV said, bringing the total number to 32. The fleet plans to fish along the islands over a duration of 40 days.
The South China Sea Naval Fleet conducted firing and boarding drills near the Spratly Islands on Sunday (May 12) as part of routine military patrols, CCTV reported.
The East China Sea Naval Fleet also entered the South China Sea on Monday for drills and patrols near the islands, CCTV said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the country would protect the legal rights of its fishermen.
China and some of its Southeast Asian neighbours are embroiled in diplomatic rows over territory in the South China Sea, potentially rich in oil and gas and criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.