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byPeter Suciu

The U.S. Navy has refuted claims made by Russia that an American warship was driven out of the Sea of Japan, and maintained that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) had performed a freedom of navigation operation in the waters near Peter the Great Bay, a gulf off the Pacific coast of Russia.

The U.S. 7th Fleet responded to the claims made earlier in the week by Russian state media regarding the incident.

“The Pacific Fleet's Admiral Vinogradov anti-submarine destroyer used an international communication channel to warn the foreign vessel that such actions were unacceptable and the violator could be forced out of the country's territorial waters in a ramming maneuver. After the [warning] was issued and the Admiral Vinogradov changed its course, the USS John S. McCain destroyer returned to international waters,” reads a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, as reported by TASS.

According to the ministry, at 6:17 Moscow time (03:17 GMT) on Tuesday, the U.S. warship, which had entered the Sea of Japan several days ago, violated Russia's territorial waters. Moscow claims the vessel was driven out and did not make attempts to re-enter the Russian territorial waters.

The 7th Fleet responded to those claims with an equally harsh tone.

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“The Russian Federation's statement about this mission is false,” a statement from the 7th Fleet said, according to USNI News. “USS John S. McCain was not ‘expelled’ from any nation's territory. McCain conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and continued to conduct normal operations in international waters. The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle, and the United States will never bow in intimidation or be coerced into accepting illegitimate maritime claims, such as those made by the Russian Federation.”

The 7th Fleet added that the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer had sailed near the waters, which had been claimed by the Soviet Union in 1984 but did not actually violate Russian territory.

“This 106-nautical mile (nm) closing line is inconsistent with the rules of international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention to enclose the waters of a bay. By drawing this closing line, the U.S.S.R. attempted to claim more internal waters – and territorial sea farther from shore – than it is entitled to claim under international law,” the Navy added. “Russia has continued the U.S.S.R. claim. By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are not Russia's territorial sea and that the United States does not acquiesce in Russia's claim that Peter the Great is a ‘historic bay’ under international law.”

This dispute with Russia follows a similar incident in October, when China also said the same warship had violated its territorial waters.  

The USS John S. McCain is named for the late United States Senator. She is part of the Destroyer Squadron 15 within the 7th Fleet. Her homeport is the Yokosuka Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan. The warship is equipped with two Aegis missile defense systems. The vessel reportedly carries Tomahawk cruise missiles, SM-2 anti-aircraft missiles and RUM-139 ASROC anti-submarine weapons.

The destroyer was involved in a collision with a tanker ship in August 2017, which resulted in the death of ten of her crew.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear includingA Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Reuters.