US Navy Becoming A Threat To Maritime Navigation In Asian Waters

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Aug. 22 (EIRNS)–The collision between the guided missile destroyer {USS John S. McCain} and a merchant vessel in the Strait of Mallacca on Aug. 20, with ten sailors dead or missing, was the fourth major mishap to be suffered by the U.S. 7th Fleet this year. The other incidents include the June 17 collision between the destroyer {USS Fitzgerald} and the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel {ACX Crystal}, which resulted in major damage to the ship and the deaths of seven sailors. On January 31, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser {USS Antietam} ran aground in Tokyo Bay after being tossed from its anchorage by wind and tides, dumping pil in the Bay. And on May 9, the Ticonderoga-class {USS Lake Champlain} sustained minor damage after a South Korean fishing boat ran into the cruiser’s port side. Not included in this list is the crash of a Marine Corps Osprey off the coast of Australia, last week, killing three of the 26 Marines on board.

All of this has caused Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson to order a review of 7th Fleet operations. He said that the string of accidents “gives great cause for concern that there is something out there that we’re not getting at.” Therefore, “We are taking a much more aggressive stance at this point to get to that level of understanding.”

In the view of the Chinese, the increased pace of operations of the US Navy in Asia–which includes freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, which both the {Fitzgerald} and the {McCain} participated in–has itself become a threat to maritime navigation. The Global Times, in an Aug. 21 editorial, suggests that the rash of accidents shows that the U.S. Navy is operating in Asian waters incompetently. “US warships patrol too frequently in the Asia-Pacific,” Global Times writes. “A large number of merchant vessels, of many types and flagged from many nations, use Asian sea lanes. If the US Navy wants to keep its frequent presence in the waters, it needs to get familiar and interact with these merchant ships, which requires huge expenditure.”

A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday (Aug. 21) flagged Beijing’s concerns about “the threat and hidden danger posed by the relevant incident to the safety of navigation in the South China Sea and relevant waters.” The China Daily noted that while the investigation into this latest incident will take time, “there is no denying the fact that the increased activities by US warships in Asia-Pacific since Washington initiated its rebalancing to the region are making them a growing risk to commercial shipping.” While the U.S. Navy is thus becoming a “dangerous obstacle” in Asian waters, “China has been making joint efforts with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to draw up a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea and it has boosted navigational safety by constructing five lighthouses on its islands.”

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