Chinese fleet patrols South China Sea

China Marine Surveillance ship Haijian 83 sets off from Sanya harbor of South China's Hainan Province, March 8, 2013. A fleet of three marine surveillance ships were on a patrol mission in South China Sea. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing: A marine surveillance fleet departed from China's Sanya city in Hainan province on Friday for regular patrols in the South China Sea, Xinhua reported.

The team consisting of three China Marine Surveillance (CMS) ships -- Haijian 83, Haijian 262, and Haijian 263, as well as Haijian B-7103 helicopter, will patrol waters around the Xisha islands for nine days.

According to Chen Huaibei, head of the patrol team, this is the first time for the Chinese maritime helicopter and ships to be dispatched to patrol the Xisha Islands at the same time since Sansha city was officially set up last July.

The patrolling missions will include inspecting the islands and marine resources and ecology, and setting up a profile for each island, he said.

On Feb 7, the Chinese government said daily patrols would be conducted in the South China Sea in 2014 to better safeguard the "legitimate interests" of domestic fishermen.

Over 400 fishing vessels are currently operating in the South China Sea.

Last year, surveillance ships carried out 58 patrol missions in the South China Sea over its territorial waters off the disputed Diaoyu Islands to secure the nation's maritime rights and interests.

The islands are called "Diaoyu" in China but "Senkaku" in Japan. The row over the islands, which are presently controlled by Japan, has left ties between Tokyo and Beijing highly tense.

Japan claims occupying the islands since 1895, while China maintains the islands were recognised as Chinese territory as early as 1783.