A U.S. underwater drone was seized by a Chinese boat in the South China Sea on Thursday. File Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez/U.S. Navy/UPI
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A Chinese naval ship has captured a $150,000 U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea.
The autonomous underwater vehicle, used to measure ocean conditions and map the ocean floor, was stolen as a U.S. crew watched nearby, a U.S. defense official told CNN Friday.
The incident took place around noon Thursday, local time, about 40 miles west of the Philippines, according to Fox News.
The crew of the USNS Bowditch was traveling not too far from the port at Subic Bay when the drone was taken away, CNN's source said.
The Chinese crew had been trailing the Bowditch for days before intercepting the drone, owned by the U.S. Navy but operated by Military Sealift Command.
A small Chinese boat picked up the drone before the Bowditch crew could collect it.
The U.S. ship did reclaim a second drone that was being dispatched for similar purposes.
The U.S. crew includes civilian scientists, and according to the ship's website the vessel is used to "support worldwide oceanography programs, including performing acoustical, biological, physical and geophysical surveys."
The Chinese ship that had shadowed the Bowditch did not respond to calls made over bridge-to-bridge radio.
The Chinese crew eventually did respond, but said they were returning to their own operations, according to CNN.
Fox News reported the U.S. State Department filed a formal protest with the Chinese government Friday.