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Russian, US destroyers face off during Sea of Japan FONOP

Peter the Great Bay FONOP
USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) transits through Peter the Great Bay on November 24, 2020. Photo: US Navy

US Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) challenged Russia’s maritime claims in the Peter the Great Bay in the Sea of Japan during a November 24 freedom of navigation operation (FONOP).

The FONOP patrol, which Russia defined as an incursion into its territorial waters, began at 06:17 am Moscow time, according to the Russian defense ministry. The Russian Navy deployed anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Vinogradov to intercept USS John S. McCain in the Sea of Japan.

The Russian destroyer reportedly communicated that USS John S. McCain could be forced out of the country’s territorial waters in a ramming maneuver, should it not return to international waters.

US 7th Fleet spokesperson Lieutenant Joe Keiley, said the the Russian Federation’s statement about the mission was false, adding that USS John S. McCain was not ‘expelled’ from any nation’s territory.

As explained by the US Navy, the U.S.S.R declared a system of straight baselines along its coasts in 1984, including a straight baseline enclosing Peter the Great Bay as claimed internal waters. This 106-nautical mile (nm) closing line is inconsistent with the rules of international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention to enclose the waters of a bay, according to the US Navy. By drawing this closing line, the U.S.S.R. attempted to claim more internal waters – and territorial sea farther from shore – than it is entitled to claim under international law. Russia has continued the U.S.S.R. claim.

“By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are not Russia’s territorial sea and that the United States does not acquiesce in Russia’s claim that Peter the Great is a “historic bay” under international law,” the US Navy said.