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9 Apr, 2021 15:56

US Navy sends warship to India’s exclusive economic zone without permission, to challenge New Delhi's ‘excessive maritime claims’

US Navy sends warship to India’s exclusive economic zone without permission, to challenge New Delhi's ‘excessive maritime claims’

The US Navy has said it deliberately refrained from asking India’s consent for a ‘freedom of navigation’ patrol near its Lakshadweep archipelago this week because New Delhi’s demands to do so contravene international law.

An Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones, “asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles (240 km) west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India's exclusive economic zone [EEZ], without requesting India's prior consent, consistent with international law,” the US 7th Fleet announced in a statement on Wednesday.

Its mission in the Arabian Sea “upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India's excessive maritime claims,” the statement added.

The US Navy said it was well aware that New Delhi “requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its EEZ and continental shelf,” but insisted those claims have no legal basis.

India believes it has the right to demand such permission in line with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) it joined in 1995. The US, however, never signed that convention, and currently challenges what it deems “excessive maritime claims” by more than a dozen countries.

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American warships regularly conduct freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea to contest Beijing’s territorial claims in the area, but their appearance in the Indian EZZ was less expected. Washington has been looking to make New Delhi an ally in countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. Only last month, US Defense Secretary Lloyd James Austin made a two-day visit to India, with the two countries agreeing to further enhance their military cooperation.

The US Navy’s statement also came on the final day of international drills in the eastern Indian Ocean, in which American and Indian warships participated together along with their Japanese and French counterparts.

There has been no official reaction to the unapproved US patrol from the government in New Delhi, but Indian papers described it as a “provocative” move that “raised eyebrows” in the country.

India’s former naval chief, Arun Prakash, expressed his bewilderment on Twitter, writing that the fact that the US mission violated Indian laws was “bad enough. But publicizing it?”

Prakash also pointed out that the 7th Fleet's message to India remained unclear to him, calling upon the US Navy to make sure its IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system is properly switched on. 

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