A U.S. Navy ship conducted presence operations near Panamanian flagged drillship. The drill ship is under contract to conduct surveying operations in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone for Malaysian state oil company Petronas. Chinese People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships and China Coast Guard vessels have also operated near the Malaysian-contracted drilling ship.
The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) operated in the southern South China Sea marking the second time that an LCS patrolled there since USS Montgomery (LCS 8) sailed with USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14), May 7, supporting freedom of navigation and overflight.
“The versatility and flexibility of Independence-variant littoral combat ships rotationally deployed to Southeast Asia is a game changer,” said Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7. “Like Montgomery’s previous operations, Gabrielle Giffords’ operations near West Capella demonstrate the depth of capability the U.S. Navy has available in the region.”
“There is no better signal of our support for a free and open Indo-Pacific than positive and persistent U.S. Naval engagement in this region.” Kacher added.
Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Bill Merz reaffirmed that the U.S. Navy will fly, sail and operate in the South China Sea wherever international law permits at any time.
“Routine presence operations, like Gabrielle Giffords’, reaffirms the U.S. will continue to fly and sail freely, in accordance with international law and maritime norms, regardless of excessive claims or current events,” said Merz. “The U.S. supports the efforts of our allies and partners in the lawful pursuit of their economic interests.”
U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino issued a pointed statement addressing Chinese operations in the region.
“We are committed to a rules-based order in the South China Sea, and we will continue to champion freedom of the seas and the rule of law,” Aquilino said in the release.
“The Chinese Communist Party must end its pattern of bullying Southeast Asians out of offshore oil, gas, and fisheries.”
In late April, guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) sailed with the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta (FFG-154) before joining the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) and guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52) to conduct combined exercises in the area where a Chinese government survey ship, Haiyang Dizhi 8, was said to be operating with an escort of several China Coast Guard ships.
The U.S. has stepped up its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
Bunker Hill conducted a freedom of navigation operation through the Spratly Island chain near Gaven Reef in the South China Sea on April 29.
“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight and the right of innocent passage of all ships,” reads the statement from 7th Fleet.
“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.”