Japan protests Chinese ship's sea testing

TOKYO, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - Japan has protested after China sent a marine research vessel to test the waters off its tsunami-hit coast, reportedly to check for radiation, without asking for Tokyo's consent, officials said Friday.

The Japan Coast Guard said the Chinese ship was spotted 330 kilometres (205 miles) off Japan's northeast coast where the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has been leaking radiation into the air, soil and sea.

Japan said China should have asked for permission as the vessel was sailing inside its 200 nautical mile (370 kilometre) exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

"We cannot allow scientific research without our country's consent," the top government spokesman Yukio Edano said, Jiji Press news agency reported.

"We issued a warning on the spot and have made contact through diplomatic channels," he said of the latest spat between the long-time Asian rivals.

A Japanese patrol vessel Thursday spotted the ship on its radar and issued a radio order for it to leave, said a Japan Coast Guard spokesman.

The ship identified itself as the 1,537-ton Nan Fen from the Chinese academy of fisheries science, the Japanese official said, adding that visual identification was impossible because of heavy fog.

"The ship radioed back saying they were out of the 200-mile zone and were taking water for maritime research", and the ship then left, he said.

Chinese media has reported that the vessel was on a mission in the Pacific to test water for radioactive contamination. Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun daily also said this was the likely reason for the ship's research mission.

Japan's March 11 quake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant, sparking meltdowns that have forced Japan to douse reactors with massive amounts of water, some of which has leaked into the Pacific.

Beijing and Tokyo have repeatedly quarreled over the years over maritime territories, and Japan has often voiced concern about China's rising defence spending and increasingly assertive stance as a naval power.

Japanese media have reported extensively on a flotilla of 11 Chinese warships that sailed between Japan's southern islands of Okinawa and Miyako two weeks ago and sailed back the same way on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Chinese ships conducted drills including target practice about 1,500 km south of Okinawa, Kyodo News reported, quoting Japan's defence ministry.

The conservative Sankei daily said the Chinese ships had deployed an unmanned aerial vehicle, and that a Chinese helicopter had staged a close fly-by of a Russian vessel that was in the area for surveillance.

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