China for the first time deployed a marine surveillance unit with a helicopter to carry out patrolling and observation missions near the contested islands in the South China Sea.
Three China Marine Surveillance ships departed from the port of newly created Sansha City on Sunday.
The fleet will be joined by the Haijian B-7103 helicopter as they patrol the waters for nine days, said Zhang Weijian, the on-site director of the mission.
Zhang said the detachment will start by patrolling 10 islands and reefs on Sunday, while law enforcement personnel on the ships will land on the islands of Zhaoshu and Beidao. It is the first time for the Chinese maritime helicopter and ships to carry out a joint patrol around the Xisha Islands since Sansha City, which administers the three islands groups of Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha, was officially set up in July last year, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The islands are claimed by Vietnam, which seriously contest China's assertions of sovereignty over the islands.
Besides Vietnam, China's claim to all most the entire South China Sea is being contested strongly by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Besides the South China Sea disputes, China and Japan are have a war of words over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, where China has been sending its naval patrols to assert its claims.
Yang Zhong, deputy head of the marine surveillance detachment, said the team will carry out regular patrol and observation missions, including maritime space management and marine ecology and island protection.
The CMS ships are under the administration of the State Oceanic Administration. They have carried out regular patrols and law enforcement activities in waters under China's jurisdiction since 2006.