U.S., Russian warships narrowly avoid collision

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan called the action "unsafe and unprofessional," and said that he'll engage in military-to-military conversations with Russia.

By Allen Cone and Ed Adamczyk

June 7 (UPI) -- The USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, came within 50 to 100 feet of a Russian destroyer, the Admiral Vinogradov, in a near-collision Friday in the Philippine Sea, the U.S. 7th Fleet said.

Russia, however, claims the Chancellorsville hindered the passage of the Vinogradov in the East China Sea.


The Russian anti-submarine ship made an "unsafe maneuver" against the Chancellorsville at approximately 11:35 a.m. local time, the U.S. Navy said in a news release.

The Chancellorsville was recovering its helicopter on a steady course and speed when the Russian ship maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville, accelerated and closed to an "unsafe distance," the Navy said. The Chancellorsville was forced to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision.

"We consider Russia's actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional and not in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 'Rules of the Road,' and internationally recognized maritime customs," the U.S. Navy said.


Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan called the action of the Russian ship "unsafe and unprofessional," and indicated the two countries' armed forces will discuss the matter. He added that the near-collision "will not deter us in our operations."

"We'll have military-to-military conversations with the Russians," Shanahan said.

The United States and Russia couldn't even agree on where the incident happened: Within the Philippines Sea and the East China Sea are the Senakaku Islands, which are also known as the Diaoyu islands in China, to the south of Japan and east of Taiwan.

"The US cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed its course and crossed the Admiral Vinogradov destroyer's course some 50 meters away from the ship. In order to prevent a collision, the Admiral Vinogradov's crew was forced to conduct an emergency maneuver," the Russian press service said.

International maritime law requires ships to maintain a safe distance, normally interpreted as 1,000 yards, when passing another. Also, navies are not to interfere with another ship conducting flight operations.

"The Russians normally harass our ships when they are operating in waters the Russian consider to be within their sphere of Influence, Carl Schuster, a retired US Navy captain and former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN. Those areas are the Black Sea, Barents Sea and the waters off Validvostok.


Russian state media suggested that the near-collision was staged by the Pentagon to coincide with a visit to Russia by President Xi Jinping of China. While China and Russia are not officially military allies, but they have staged joint military exercises and sometimes unite for leverage against the United States.

Maj. Gen. Vladimir Bogatyrev, chairman of the National Association of Reserve Officers, said that "it is not by chance" that the incident happened during the visit, and that the U.S. hoped to "demonstrate to us the supposed strength of the American fleet and lawless behavior in the wide expanse of global seas."

This near-collision is not the first in recent memory for U.S. and Russian ships, or aircraft.

Twice in June 2016, a Russian warship in the eastern Mediterranean approached a U.S. Navy ship in what American military officials said were unsafe manners.

The Russian frigate Neustrashimyy on June 17, 2016, came within 150 yards of the USS San Jacinto, according to U.S. military officials.

the USS Gravely was in the Mediterranean on June 28, 2016, to provide protection for the aircraft carrier Harry S Truman when it approached by the Russian Neustrashimyy-class frigate, according to U.S. officials.


And earlier this week, the United States said a P-8A Poseidon aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-35 three times over 175 minutes. The Russian Defense Ministry denied the U.S. accusations of the incident Tuesday.

The Chancellorsville, which is homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, is among the Ticonderoga-class of cruisers that perform primarily in a Battle Force role, "capable of supporting carrier battle groups, amphibious forces or operating independently and as flagships of surface action groups," according to the Navy. They include 30 officers and 300 enlisted personnel.

The Chancellorsville -- named for a battle during the Civil War -- was first deployed in 1991 to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm.

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