The U.S. Navy ships USS Montgomery (LCS 8) and USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14) conducted presence operations near Panamanian flagged West Capella drillship in the South China Sea on May 7.
The vessels conducted operations in international waters and airspace near the drillship which is conducting exploratory drilling operations in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for the Malaysian state oil company Petronas.
The area is also claimed by China and falls within its so-called ‘nine-dash line’, which is not internationally recognized. Multiple Chinese People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels have harassed the drillship and its supply ships for the past two months. In response, Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) ships and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency ships are also operating in the area.
“Through continued operational presence in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy supports transparency, the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, the principles that underpin security and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific, so that all nations in the region may benefit”, said a Navy statement.
According to Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, Montgomery and Cesar Chavez’s presence in the South China Sea demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s continued commitment to the region.
“USS Montgomery’s operations with the USNS Cesar Chavez highlight the flexibility and agility of our naval forces in this vital region,” said Kacher. “Our forces fly, sail and operate in the international waters of the South China Sea at our discretion and in accordance with maritime norms and international law, demonstrating the wide range of naval capability we have available in the Indo-Pacific.”
Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stressed that U.S. forces would stand with regional friends and partners to resist coercion and oppose unlawful claims to international waters and resources.
“We are committed to a rules-based order in the South China Sea and we will continue to champion freedom of the seas and the rule of law,” said Aquilino. “The Chinese Communist Party must end its pattern of bullying Southeast Asians out of offshore oil, gas, and fisheries. Millions of people in the region depend on those resources for their livelihood.”
USS Montgomery is an Independence-variant littoral combat ship of the Navy while USNS Cesar Chavez is a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC).
Cesar Chavez is underway in the Indo-Pacific region, delivering essential supplies, fuel, cargo and equipment to warfighters throughout the region. MSC operates approximately 125 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.
Attached to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, USS Montgomery is on her rotational deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.