U.S. Navy ship tests claim on island made by China, others

By Daniel Uria  |  Jan. 30, 2016 at 8:32 AM
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HONG KONG , Jan. 30 (UPI) -- A United States Navy warship conducted a patrol near a disputed island in the South China Sea.

The USS Curtis Wilbur passed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Parcel Islands, claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. The operation, called a freedom of navigation operation, was meant to test the claims to the waters made by the three countries.

"This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants, China, Taiwan and Vietnam, to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas," Defense Department spokesperson Mark Wright said. "The excessive claims regarding Triton Island are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention."

The operation lasted about three hours and the U.S. did not notify any of the three countries before the patrol.

An official said China's People's Liberation Army Navy was not seen in the area, although China claims "indisputable sovereignty" over all of the islands in the South China Sea and the surrounding waters.

The U.S. does not take a formal position on the claims to the land in the South China Sea, but China has been constructing manmade islands over the past two years to progress their territorial claim in the area.

"The United States does take a strong position on protecting the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries and that all maritime claims must comply with international law," Wright said.

The U.S. performed a similar operation in October when it sailed the USS Lassen near an artificial island built by China. China objected to that operation, lodging a formal protest and warning the warship to leave.

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