China's New ship patrols South China Sea

A fishery inspection ship set off on its maiden voyage from Guangzhou to patrol the South China Sea on Friday, according to the Regional Bureau of South China Sea Fishery Management of the Ministry of Agriculture.

China's largest fishery administration ship, the Yuzheng 312, begins its maiden patrol in the South China Sea on Friday. Departing from Guangzhou, it sailed to the Nansha Islands to carry out a law enforcement mission. Ke Xiaojun / China News Service

Wu Zhuang, director of the bureau, said the Yuzheng 312 will play a positive role in regular patrols of the South China Sea, strengthening the country's law enforcement capacity and better protecting fishermen's safety.

The 101-meter ship, with a displacement of 4,950 tons, is the largest fishery patrol vessel in the fishery fleet patrolling the South China Sea.

It has a maximum range of 2,400 nautical miles (4,445 km) and a top speed of 14 nautical miles per hour.

The bureau said the ship was converted from the Dongyou 621 of the East China Sea Fleet of the Chinese People's Liberation Army navy.

Wu said the voyage will take about 40 to 50 days, mainly in the waters of the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea.

"The vessel is equipped with a water cannon to protect our fishermen and prevent illegal incursions," he added.

Facing complicated marine disputes over the waters of China, he said unifying the country's maritime law enforcement forces is important in guaranteeing the nation's maritime rights and enhancing law enforcement capacity.

According to the overhaul plan announced on March 10, four forces involved in maritime law enforcement will be unified under a single administration, the Maritime Police Bureau, under the restructured State Oceanic Administration.

As one of the country's maritime law enforcement forces, the fishery administration is one of the four departments facing restructuring.

The others are China Marine Surveillance under the State Oceanic Administration, coast guard forces of the Ministry of Public Security and maritime anti-smuggling authorities of the General Administration of Customs.

Meng Hongwei, vice-minister of public security, was appointed head of the new Maritime Police Bureau, and Liu Cigui, head of the restructured SOA, was appointed political commissar of the bureau on Monday.

Shi Qingfeng, spokesman for the State Oceanic Administration, said the restructured SOA will strengthen its capacity in law enforcement, as well as marine environment and resource protection.

"The restructuring work is proceeding in an orderly fashion. Before the State Council releases the plan for the administration's personnel and responsibilities, the marine law enforcement forces involved will carry out their patrol duties as usual," Shi said.

According to Shi, the plan for the new bureau's responsibilities and its personnel will state whether the newly established Maritime Police Bureau can enforce criminal law, and whether the patrol ship will be equipped with weapons.

An insider from China Marine Surveillance told China Daily the departments involved have been discussing the restructuring.

Niu Dun, vice-minister of agriculture and a member of China's top advisory body, told Beijing Youth Daily during the annual two sessions that there are more than 35,000 fishery management workers, not all of whom will be transferred to the restructured SOA because some are protecting fishermen's interests in rivers and lakes.