WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy's Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald completed its routine patrol in the South China Sea on Sunday.
Fitzgerald is the most recent vessel to conduct a patrol operation in the region, following U.S. B-52 bombers coming within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Spratly Isands on Friday, and guided missile destroyer USS Lassen also traveling within 12 nautical miles of Subi reef.
During the B-52 operation, Chinese ground control operators made contact with the pilots, telling them to change course. The pilots disregarded the ground controllers, and continued their mission observing the disputed territory.
"Fitzgerald's presence in the South China Sea reinforces the United States' commitment to peace and regional stability to our partners and allies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific," Fitzgerald's commanding officer Cmdr. Christopher England said in a statement.
Fitzgerald personnel reported no issues or hostile confrontations with Chinese officials, which maintain their territorial claim over the South China Sea. The crew made regular contact with the People's Liberation Army-navy Jiangkai II-class frigate Yuncheng. In addition to patrol operations, Fitzgerald also conducted live-fire exercises and damage control training. USS Fitzgerald sails under the command of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet.
The Chinese government has come under criticism for using the region to construct artificial islands for military purposes. Despite the tensions, the patrol voyage comes as naval forces from both the United States and China continue to cooperate in joint naval exercises.