Destroyer USS Russell Performs South China Sea FONOP

February 17, 2021 12:01 PM
The guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59) conducts routine underway operations. Russell is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. U.S. Navy Photo

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer performed a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on Wednesday, U.S. 7th Fleet announced.

Destroyer USS Russell (DDG-59) sailed near the Spratly Islands, 7th Fleet said in a news release.

“This freedom of navigation operation (‘FONOP’) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan,” the release reads.

Earlier this month, USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) performed a FONOP near the Paracel Islands after the destroyer moved through the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan, China and Vietnam have all staked claims to the islands.

The Navy conducted multiple FONOPS in the South China Sea last year and appears to be continuing that practice under the new Biden administration.

“China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines each claim sovereignty over some or all of the Spratly Islands. China, Vietnam, and Taiwan require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in ‘innocent passage’ through the territorial sea. Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all States –including their warships –enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea,” 7th Fleet said in the news release.

“The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law,” it continued. “By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.”

Two carrier strike groups also participated in dual-carrier exercises earlier this month in the South China Sea, USNI News recently reported.

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group linked up last week to perform the dual-carrier operations. Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, who commands Carrier Strike Group 9, told reporters at the time that the CSGs did not observe any abnormal responses from China.

“We didn’t see anything significantly out of the norm with our two carriers coming together for this rendezvous,” Verissimo said.

“We left Guam about a week ago. Nimitz was on their way home and it was a great opportunity to come together and the fact that we came together in the South China Sea was based on our navigation plan and making the most efficient route to and from our areas,” he continued. “So we didn’t see anything beyond normal patterns of life when we were operating together over the past couple days.”

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne is a reporter for USNI News. She previously covered the Navy for Inside Defense and reported on politics for The Hill.
Follow @MalShelbourne

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