SAN DIEGO — A US Navy ship had an “unsafe” interaction with a Chinese warship Sunday while the US vessel was conducting a freedom of navigation operation near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, causing the US ship to maneuver “to prevent a collision,” according to US defense officials.
“A (People’s Republic of China) Luyang destroyer approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea,” Capt. Charles Brown, a spokesman for US Pacific Fleet, told CNN in a statement confirming the incident.
Brown said the Chinese warship “conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for the Decatur to depart the area.”
He added that the Chinese destroyer “approached within 45 yards” of the front of the US ship, adding that the Decatur “maneuvered to prevent a collision.”
“Our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said.
This incident comes amid heightened US-China tensions over a broad range of issues. Chinese ships often shadow US vessels during freedom of navigation operations but those interactions are usually considered safe.
CNN reported Sunday the USS Decatur sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands as part of what the US Navy calls freedom of navigation operations, which are meant to enforce the right of free passage in international waters.
While the Navy conducts such freedom of navigation operations all over the world, China is particularly sensitive about the operations when they come near areas where the Chinese government has built islands and established military facilities on disputed maritime features.