USS Decatur challenges China with Spratly Islands freedom of navigation operation

US Navy destroyer USS Decatur (DDG-73) challenged China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea with a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the vicinity of the disputed Spratly Islands.

US Navy file photo of USS Decatur sailing in the South China Sea

On Sunday, September 30, Decatur came within 12 miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in a region claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

According to available information, this is the third time this year the US Navy has challenged China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The first FONOP of 2018 was carried out by USS Hopper in January as the destroyer sailed close to the Scarborough Shoal.

Several months later, the US Navy sent destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76) and cruiser USS Antietam (CG-54) to sail within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands in what was likely the first two-ship FONOP ever conducted.

Worth noting is the fact that US Navy ships were joined by the Royal Navy in such operations as amphibious assault ship HMS Albion conducted the UK’s first FONOP in August this year.

US Navy FONOPs conducted in the South China Sea at an increasing rate are in response to China’s militarization of artificially built islands in the South China Sea which include the Spratly and Paracel Islands and the Scarborough Shoal among others.

US officials say freedom of navigation operations are conducted in accordance with international aim and with the aim to challenge whatever excessive claims countries might have in disputed regions.