The U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) sailed near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on April 29, the service announced.
“This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan”, said a U.S. 7th Fleet statement.
USNI News reported that the transit was in the vicinity of the Gaven Reef, which is occupied and controlled by China as part of Sansha, and claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam. The reef has a supply platform and a reef fortress.
According to the U.S. Navy, USS Bunker Hill is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations “in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region”.
The Spratly Islands is a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea. Composed of islands, islets and cays and more than 100 reefs, sometimes grouped in submerged old atolls, the archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam.
The Spratly Islands dispute is an ongoing territorial dispute between China, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, concerning “ownership” of the Spratly Islands. All except Brunei occupy some of the maritime features.
This is the second freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) conducted by a U.S. Navy warship in the South China Sea in the past two days. On April 28, the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52) sailed in the vicinity of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
Paracel Islands, also known as Hoàng Sa in Vietnamese and Xisha in Chinese, is a disputed group of islands in the South China Sea currently controlled and occupied by China. The islands, which lie north of the Spratly Islands, are also claimed by Vietnam (occupied before 1974) and Taiwan.