Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A U.S. Navy warship sailed near two contested islands in the South China Sea on Sunday, U.S. defense officials said.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur conducted a freedom of navigation operation Sunday as it sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands, a U.S. official told Fox News.
The Pentagon describes such freedom of navigation missions, which are meant to enforce the right of free passage for U.S. vessels in international waters, as "routine" operations.
Freedom of navigation operations are meant to "challenge excessive maritime claims and demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law" an official told CNN.
"U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including the South China Sea. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," the official said.
The U.S. conducted a similar operation in May when it sent the Higgins destroyer and the Antietam cruiser within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands.
Beijing, which claims total sovereignty over the islands responded to that operation by sending warships to confront the U.S. Navy vessels.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force flew two B-52H Stratofortress bombers into the South China Sea although Beijing didn't immediately respond to that action or Sunday's naval operation.