BEIJING, May 3 (UPI) -- China is to boost its maritime patrol service by at least 10 percent in the face of increasing incursions into Chinese territorial waters.
More employees, new ships and beefed up monitoring of sea lanes, especially around China's out-lying islands, is the plan, a report in the China Daily newspaper said.
By the end of the year, around 1,000 recruits will be added to the 9,000 already employed, Sun Shuxian, a spokesman for China Marine Surveillance said.
"New equipment will be installed on part of the inspection fleet to improve law enforcement capacity," he said.
The maritime service has about 300 vessels, including 30 rated more than 1,000 tons, and 10 planes, including four helicopters. Within five years, another 36 ships are expected to be commissioned "to improve law enforcement capacity," Sun said.
China also will "carry out regular sea patrols more frequently to strengthen law enforcement in Chinese related waters to safeguard the country's marine rights in 2011."
The service estimated that it carried out around 1,100 flights and more than 13,300 sea patrol voyages last year. It investigated nearly 1,400 illegal offshore activities and handed out fines totaling $116 million in 2010.
China is facing challenges while protecting the country's marine rights, Gao Zhiguo, head of the China Institute for Marine Affairs of the State Oceanic Administration, said. Offshore development and exploration is accelerating and sea disputes between China and other countries have surged.
The announcement comes as tensions increase between China and its maritime neighbors over long-running territorial disputes concerning dozens of small island, many uninhabited, in the South China Sea, an area from Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan.
States bordering the sea are China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
Two of the most vigorously disputed island groups are the Spratly Islands and the Diaoyu Islands.
The five Diaoyu islands and their accompanying rocky outcrops are around 100 miles north of Japan's Ishigaki Island and 116 miles northeast of Taiwan. At the end of the war in 1945 they were under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the captured Japanese island of Okinawa. But they have been under Japanese jurisdiction since 1972 when Okinawa was returned to Japan.
In September Japanese patrol vessels detained a Chinese fishing boat in the area but only after the captain of the trawler, the Minjinyu 5179, deliberately rammed the two Japanese vessels during its escape bid.
China demanded the return of the vessel and in November rejected U.S. mediation between Tokyo and Beijing over the Diaoyu Islands.
China is looking at its options for dialogue and cooperation with countries in the region with the hope of promoting peace and development, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said at the time.
"The Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets are an inalienable part of China's territory and the territorial dispute over the islands is an issue between China and Japan," Ma said.
In March tensions rose between China and its maritime neighbors Japan and the Philippines after Chinese aircraft and patrol boats allegedly harassed their military and exploration vessels around the Spratly Islands group.
The Spratlys are more than 750 small islands, reefs and atolls between Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Brunei but they cover only several square miles in total.
Japan lodged a formal protest with Beijing after a Chinese helicopter flew as close as 230 feet at an altitude of 120 feet past a Japanese destroyer in the East China Sea, an "extremely dangerous" maneuver, Japan's Defense Ministry said.
The Japanese ship, the Samidare, was patrolling near a disputed natural gas field that both countries claim.
The Philippines, too, complained about low-level Chinese military fly-bys of a Filipino natural gas survey ship operating in area.
In 1974, China occupied the Paracel Islands, seizing them from Vietnam. China calls the Paracel Islands the Xisha Islands and they are governed as part of China's nearby Hainan Island province.