A Chinese warship came within just 135 feet from colliding into the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Decatur on Sunday, according to ABC News. The destroyer had to quickly maneuver out of the warship’s way just to avoid a collision.
U.S. Pacific Fleet Spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown said a Chinese Luyang destroyer approached the Decatur “in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver” in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea at approximately 8:30 a.m. Sunday.
According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, China first took over the rock located in the Spratly Islands in 1988. China, in addition, claims seven other islands in the chain as their own.
The U.S. says the encounter with the Chinese destroyer came as the U.S. Navy conducted its Freedom of Navigation Operation Program, or FONOP, in the small chain of islands.
The program is supposed to be routine and uneventful.
ABC News reports that the “U.S. Navy routinely undertakes FONOP missions worldwide to challenge excessive territorial claims of international shipping lanes.”
However, as the USS Decatur came within 12 nautical miles from the Gaven and Johnson Reefs, the Chinese destroyer began to make its way toward the U.S. warship.
According to Brown, the “destroyer conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart the area.”
Brown said the Chinese destroyer came within 45 yards of the Decatur, forcing the U.S. ship to change course to prevent a collision.
Another U.S. official added that while the Chinese warship had originally been 500 yards away, it quickly made its way to the Decatur and cut across its bow at a distance of 135 feet.
While China has approached U.S. ships in the past, ABC News reports that this has been the closest counter to date.
“U.S. Navy ships and aircraft operate throughout the Indo-Pacific routinely, including in the South China Sea,” Brown said. “As we have for decades, our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
The near collision comes at a time when tensions between the two countries continue to mount.
On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis canceled a trip to China over the recent trade disputes and China’s militarization in the South China Sea.
Last week, China recalled a top admiral and broke off talks with U.S. military officials in response to U.S. sanctions imposed on China for buying Russian-made weapons.
In addition, scheduled trade talks between China and the United States were canceled by Chinese officials because of increased trade tension between the two countries.
Last week, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said in an interview with CNBC, “We will ply the internationally agreed upon open spaces of the ocean with our warships at all times to make sure that our commerce and our lanes of communication are open, that is something we will always do.”
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