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US, Russia blame each other as ships nearly collide at sea

Updated June 08, 2019

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In this image released by the US Navy on Friday, a Russian anti-submarine ship (left) sails close to a US ship.—AFP
In this image released by the US Navy on Friday, a Russian anti-submarine ship (left) sails close to a US ship.—AFP

WASHINGTON: The US and Russia accused each other of unsafe actions on Friday after an American guided-missile cruiser and a Russian destroyer came within 165 feet of each other in the Philippine Sea.

Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters that the US will file a formal diplomatic complaint about the incident and will have military to military conversations with the Russians. He added that the encounter will not deter the US from conducting naval operations.

The US 7th Fleet said the Russian destroyer put the safety of the USS Chancellorsville and its crew at risk, forcing it to reverse all engines at full throttle to avoid a collision.

No one was injured, and the ships never came into contact, said Navy Cdr. Clay Doss, a spokesman for the Japan-based 7th Fleet.

An American helicopter was preparing to land on the Chancellorsville, which was travelling on a steady course, when the Russian destroyer, travelling behind the US ship, started moving faster and approached as close as 50-100 feet (15-30 metres), the 7th Fleet said in a statement.

“We consider Russia’s actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional and not in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), ‘Rules of the Road,’ and internationally recognised maritime customs,” the statement said.

It was the first such incident involving warships in the region since September, when the Chinese warship Luoyang maneuvered close to the USS Decatur , a Navy destroyer, in the South China Sea, an incident the US also labelled unprofessional and unsafe. The US at the time said the Chinese ship came within 45 yards (41 metres) of the American ship, forcing it to maneuver out of the way. The Chinese said the Luoyang had been deployed to drive the US vessel away from islands that China claims as its own.

The US also has repeatedly complained in recent years that Russian planes have flown dangerously close to American aircraft, and the two nations routinely shadow each other in international airspace.

In this latest incident, in open ocean northeast of the Philippines, the Russian military accused the Chancellorsville of making a dangerous maneuver by crossing the path of the Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov. The US said the incident happened in the Philippine Sea, while the Russians said it was in the East China Sea, which is further west and closer to China.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2019