The crew members aboard the vessels, two of which were within 50 feet, waved Chinese flags and told the U.S. ship to leave the area, the statement said.
"Because the vessels' intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself," the statement said. "The Chinese crewmembers disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet."
After the Impeccable alerted the Chinese ships "in a friendly manner" that it was seeking a safe path to depart the area, two of the Chinese ships stopped "directly ahead of USNS Impeccable, forcing Impeccable to conduct an emergency 'all stop' in order to avoid collision," the statement said.
"They dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in front of Impeccable's path."
Emphasis mine. I would imagine that Chinese ships honing in on you is somewhat perturbing, especially when the half-naked sailors on the ships are throwing wood in front of your ship (which seems more an odd kind of insult than an actual tactic to stop or damage the rather large and metal-hulled Impeccable.) But in all seriousness, this is only part of a pattern of harassment that Chinese ships have aimed at American craft in the area:
The Pentagon cited three previous instances of what it described as harassment, the first of which occurred Wednesday, when a Chinese Bureau of Fisheries Patrol vessel used a spotlight to illuminate the the ocean surveillance ship USNS Victorious.
In that incident, which occurred about 125 miles from China's coast in the Yellow Sea, the Chinese ship "crossed Victorious' bow at a range of about 1,400 yards" in darkness without notice or warning. The following day, a Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft conducted 12 fly-bys of Victorious at an altitude of about 400 feet and a range of 500 yards.
The next day, a Chinese frigate approached Impeccable "and proceeded to cross its bow at a range of approximately 100 yards," which was followed less than two hours later by a Chinese Y-12 aircraft conducting 11 fly-bys of Impeccable at an altitude of 600 feet and a range of 100 to 300 feet, the statement said.
"The frigate then crossed Impeccable's bow yet again, this time at a range of approximately 400-500 yards without rendering courtesy or notice of her intentions."
And on Saturday, a Chinese intelligence collection ship challenged Impeccable over bridge-to-bridge radio, "calling her operations illegal and directing Impeccable to leave the area or 'suffer the consequences,' " the statement said.
The consequences being the above-described incident I suppose. The Chinese have a history of making small-scale military maneuvers to indicate their disapproval with another nation's rhetoric or policies, so I'm guessing this has something to do with Secretary Clinton's comments on China and human rights. So, not that serious, but probably a unnerving to the crews of these ships (and somewhat amusing to us, admittedly.)
One more note: the Impeccable was towing an intelligence-gathering array, which was almost certainly being used to track the movement of Chinese submarines...possibly moving in and out of China's new submarine base on the Hainan island.