The Japan Coast Guard said on Monday it has finished deploying 12 ships to exclusively patrol areas around Japanese-controlled, Chinese-claimed islands in the East China Sea amid China’s growing maritime assertiveness. The fleet, consisting of 10 newly built 1,500 tonne patrol ships and two helicopter-equipped patrol vessels, will become fully operational this month as part of efforts to strengthen protection of waters off the Diaoyu Islands, which are called the Senkaku Islands in Japan. After tensions heightened with China following the Japanese government’s purchase of most of the islands from a private Japanese owner in September 2012, the Japan Coast Guard’s 11th regional headquarters, which is based in Okinawa and oversees the area, has received help from other regions to patrol the Diaoyus. Japanese submarine makes first port call to Philippines in 15 years amid China maritime tensions But the 11th Regional Coast Guard will in principle no longer need help from other regions thanks to the fresh deployment of ships, while other regional coast guards will be able to focus on maritime accidents and other activities in their own areas, according to the Japan Coast Guard. The 10 newly built ships, equipped with 20mm guns and water cannons, are 96 metres in length and capable of high-speed cruising. The two other ships have been transferred from other regional coast guards and undergone refurbishment. Besides the 12 ships freshly deployed, the 11th Regional Coast Guard has six 1,000 tonne class or larger patrol ships and one helicopter-equipped patrol vessel, which will engage in operations other than those related to the Diaoyus. Piers and lodging facilities are currently being prepared at Ishigaki port in Okinawa so it can serve as a base for the patrol ships. The fixed number of personnel for the 11th Regional Coast Guard has been increased to 1,722, of whom 606 were assigned exclusively to Diaoyus patrol activities. Japan has seen a sharp rise of intrusions by Chinese vessels in its territorial waters around the islands after its 2012 land purchase. The number of such ships at one point exceeded 20 per month, but it has dropped to less than 10 recently. Philippines mulls submarines as Japan seeks inclusion in military drills in disputed South China Sea Tensions still remain, however. Late last year, China Coast Guard vessels, including one apparently armed with guns, were spotted sailing in Japanese territorial waters near the disputed islands. On Monday, three China Coast Guard vessels were found sailing near the islands. They entered a contiguous zone just outside Japanese territorial waters, according to the Japan Coast Guard, making it the ninth straight day that Chinese government vessels had been spotted near the Diaoyus. “We will continue to deal with the situation firmly and in a level-headed manner under the policy of decisively protecting our territorial waters,” Japan Coast Guard Commandant Yuji Sato said earlier.