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International relations

Fleet of 250 Chinese fishing boats monitored by Peru navy

Washington and Beijing engage in Twitter war over nature of the ships

Ecuadorian Navy vessels surround a fishing boat after detecting a fishing fleet of mostly Chinese-flagged ships in an international corridor that borders the Galapagos Islands' exclusive economic zone on Aug. 7. Similar fishing vessels were detected this week by Peruvian naval forces some 370 km off their country.   © Reuters

LIMA, Sept 25 (Reuters) -- Peru's Navy on Friday was carefully watching a fleet of around 250 Chinese fishing vessels that had sailed just outside the Andean country's waters, angering the domestic fishing industry and sparking a Twitter war between Washington and Beijing.

The fleet, previously fishing for giant squid near the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, was detected this week by Peruvian naval forces some 230 miles (370.15 km) off the coast of the country, the local maritime authority reported.

"Our Navy is making overflights ensuring there are no such vessels within the scope of our jurisdiction, which is 200 miles," Defense Minister Jorge Chávez told reporters on Friday.

The commander of the Coast Guard operations, Rear Admiral Jorge Portocarrero, told Reuters the fleet was identified and located after a low-altitude flight of an exploration aircraft and a patrol vessel between Sunday and Wednesday.

"Not all are in a single place, they are scattered," he said, adding there were 250-270 ships. "We have no evidence of them having entered our maritime space."

The United States embassy in Lima said the Chinese vessels had a history of avoiding tracking and seemed to "be dumping plastic" pollutants.

"Over fishing can cause enormous ecological and economic damage. Peru cannot afford such a loss," the U.S. embassy said on Twitter this week.

The Chinese embassy responded that it attached great importance to protecting the environment and the ocean. "We hope that the Peruvian public is not deceived by false information," it said on Twitter.

Peru's Foreign Ministry sought to defuse the tension, saying it had expressed discomfort to U.S. officials about the "inaccuracy" of the U.S. embassy's tweets. Peru is the world's second largest producer of copper, much of which is bought by China.

Vice Minister Talavera said he had told U.S officials that Peru "is a friend and partner" of both the United States and China and called on them to resolve their differences through dialogue, understanding and cooperation.

Local fishing associations said indiscriminate fishing of giant squid hurt the domestic industry. Squid accounts for 43% of Peru's fishery exports.

"It's an open secret that every year vessels mainly from China... are installed just at the edge of 200 miles off Peru to extract this resource," Cayetana Aljovín, president of the National Society on Fishing, said on Friday.

"By extracting an unregulated resource in those waters, it could negatively impact the Peruvian ecosystem."

Peru's government approved a law in August requiring local and foreign boats operating off its coast to use GPS and SISESAT equipment, a satellite tracking system for vessels.

Portoccarero stated the fleet of Chinese ships has been present in the Pacific Ocean for years, ranging from the north of Chile, Peru's coast and close to the Galapagos Islands, depending on the migration patterns of the squid.

He added that in 2004, three Chinese-flagged ships were captured within Peruvian maritime territory, after an operation with a navy submarine and helicopter, though added this sort of fleet was found in places around the world.

"We have a large one in front of Argentina, another in the north of Brazil, there are several surrounding Australia, New Zealand, East Africa, and in the Indian Ocean. It is a global issue," he said. 

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