U.S. Pacific Fleet released photos today of a Navy “ocean glider” unmanned underwater vehicle taken Dec. 15 by China — leading to U.S. accusations that the sovereign vessel had been unlawfully seized.
The UUV was returned Monday to the U.S. Navy by the same People’s Liberation Army-Navy Vessel 510 that grabbed it.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin recovered the UUV near the location where it had been “unlawfully seized” by China in international waters approximately 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines, the Pentagon and Navy said.
Mustin is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the Navy said.
“The seized UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the U.S. Navy which was conducting routine operations in the international waters of the South China Sea in full compliance with international law,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said on Monday. “It had just completed a pre-programmed military oceanographic survey route and was returning to the nearby USNS Bowditch.”
A Chinese Dalang-III class submarine rescue vessel launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV as the oceanographic survey ship Bowditch was attempting to retrieve it along with a second UUV in the South China Sea, the Pentagon said.
The Defense Department called upon China to immediately return the ocean glider, an unclassified vehicle used to gather military oceanographic data including salinity, water temperature, and sound speed — data useful in anti-submarine warfare.
“This incident was inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea,” Cook said Monday. “The U.S. has addressed those facts with the Chinese through the appropriate diplomatic and military channels, and have called on Chinese authorities to comply with their obligations under international law and to refrain from further efforts to impede lawful U.S. activities.”
China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Tuesday noted the “stable military-to-military relations” between the two countries in dealing with the seizure.
“(C)onsidering how this incident was handled, we can tell that China and the U.S. enjoy a smooth channel of communication and consultation between the military, which acts positively in handling unexpected incidents and preventing miscalculations,” she said.