U.S. Warship USS Decatur and Chinese Destroyer Avoid Narrow Collision in South China Sea
The USS Decatur (Photo: public.navy.mil)

A U.S. Navy ship had to maneuver "to prevent a collision” with a Chinese warship while the USS Decatur was conducting a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea.

“The "unsafe" interaction with a Chinese warship happened on Sunday while the U.S. vessel was crossing near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea," according to U.S. defence 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 U.S. Pacific Fleet, told CNN in a statement speaking about the incident. Brown said the Chinese warship "conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for the Decatur to depart the area."

According to another U.S. official, the Chinese warship was initially about 500 yards on the Decatur’s port side then moved ahead of the Decatur and cut across the American destroyer's bow.

He added that the Chinese destroyer "approached within 45 yards (135 feet) of the Decatur’s bow" of the front of the U.S. ship, adding that the Decatur "maneuvered to prevent a collision."

China claims almost all of the South China Sea and bases this claim on a historical policy of the nine dash line from its coast. Parts of the South China Sea are claimed by other South East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.

The U.S. has denounced China’s claim to the South China Sea and said it will continue to ensure that the sea lanes of commerce that traverse the South China Sea would remain open to everyone. "Our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows," Brown said.

Chinese vessels have approached U.S. Navy ships during previous FONOPs in the South China Sea, but Sunday's encounter appears to the be the closest one yet. China has constructed seven artificial islands along the Spratly Island chain and armed them with radars and other military equipment including a runway for landing fighter jets.