WASHINGTON -- Two Soviet warships deliberately bumped two U.S. Navy ships in international waters in the Black Sea Friday after warning they would do so, Navy officials said, adding the United States will file a protest. The two U.S. ships were 'shouldered out of the way' after the Soviets had warned, 'Soviet ships have orders to prevent violations of territorial waters. I am authorized to strike your ship with one of ours,' Capt. Jerry Flynn said.
The operations officer in the chief of naval operations office told a Pentagon press conference the American ships responded only by maintaining their course and speed.
Flynn and Cmdr. Rick Schiff, a Navy legal expert, said the dispute was over the ' $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) of innocent passage' within the 12-mile territorial limit claimed by the Soviets.
The United States only recognizes a 3 mile limit, and the U.S. Navy periodically $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) their right to operate within the 12 mile limit in a non-provocative way, Schiff said.
The Soviets recognize this right, but only in sea lanes they have previously approved, Flynn. He said such tests of this $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) must be approved in advance by the White House $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) one was.
Earlier, the Pentagon reported that about 3 a.m. EST (11:00 local time), the Spruance class destroyer USS Caron was struck on the port, or left, side by a Mirka class frigate, the Pentagon said.
Three minutes later, the cruiser USS Yorktown accompanying the Caron also was struck on the port side by a Krivak class frigate, sustaining minor damage, the statement said. The Pentagon said the damage to the Soviet vessels was not known, but was believed to be minor. 'The United States will protest the incidents $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) Soviet authorities,' the Pentagon statement said, adding that the U.S. ships were 'exercising their nationally recognized right of innocent passage,' despite being within the So,iEt 12 mile territorial limit.
The statement said there were no U.S. injuries in either incident.
Flynn said the same two American ships, which are both based in Norfolk, Va., had been involved in a similar Black Sea test of the right of innocent passage in March 1986.
Schiff said the worldwide tests by American ships had begun in the 1970s by the Carter administration to 'discourage expansive coastal claims' by foreign nations.
Both officers denied the U.S. ships were on an intelligence-gathering mission, and stressed they were not doing anything provocative.
Schiff noted that Soviet intelligence-gathering vessels routinely operate 5 miles off the American coast.
Flynn said the Caron was about 7 miles south of the Crimean Peninsula when it was struck and the Yorktown about 10 miles. He said the ships spent about an hour and 15 miles within the Soviet 12 mile territorial limit.
Flynn declined to say whether there were otherAmerican ships operating in the Black Sea on the grounds that fleet operations are not disclosed in advance.
The earlier Pentagon statement described thei.bidents as 'minor collisi.nc.' But, Flynn said, 'We view (the incident) with considerable concern.'
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, traveling aboard Air Force en route to California with President Reagan, said the president had been briefed about the incident.
State Department officials said, 'The United States will protest. There is no excuse for ramming a ship which is engaged in innocent passage.' In Moscow, the Soviet Ministry of Defense said the U.S ships had vioLdtod the Soviet border by entering withing 4 miles of the Crimean coast. It said the American vessels did not respond to warning signals and 'dangerously maneuvered' in Soviet territorial waters. $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) ministry said the U.S. ship stayed within the Soviet 12 mile limit for two hours and four minutes, according to the Tass News Agency.
Earlier, the Soviet Foreign Ministry recalled earlier-ctaimed violations that had produced $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) Soviet warning of possible $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$).
On May 21, 1987, the Soviet Union protested violation of its borders in the Avacha Bay near the Kamchakta Peninsula in the Soviet Far East by theparpiser USS Arkansas. A Foreign Minister spokesman said at the time that the Arkansas sailed into Soviet territoral waters on May 17 and 21. Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Gremitskikh said, 'The American side was told that sach violations could have most serious consequences, all responsibility for which would be squarely on the United States'.
The report of the two incidents comes as Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci is preparing to meet Soviet Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov in Bern, Switzerland, March 16-17 to discuss issues such as dangerous incidents between Soviet and U.S. forces.
The latest such incident occurred Jan. 10, when a Soviet MiG-23 jet fighter twice buzzed a U.S. Navy patrol plane over international waters in the Sea of Japan.
At one time, the buzzing of aircraft and the bumping of ships was such a common practice that the dso nations formed an $(TEXT ILLEGIBLE$) conference providing a mechanism mediating disputes.