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US Navy ship violates Indian law as it sails through exclusive zone in ‘messaging to China’

External affairs ministry says incident has been raised through diplomatic channels with US. Ex-Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash says US violated India's rules but not international law.

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New Delhi: A US guided missile destroyer sailed through India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, without intimating India — in violation of the Indian law.

Sources in the Indian naval establishment, while accepting that the US move was a violation, said it is more of a “messaging to China” than anything else.

A statement released by the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said, “On April 7, 2021 (local time) USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”

It said India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its EEZ or continental shelf, and added that this claim is inconsistent with international law.

This Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims, it said.

“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements,” the US’ 7th Fleet said in its statement.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs, however, raised “concerns” through diplomatic channels over the passage of USS John Paul Jones through its EEZ, and noted the country’s adherence to the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

According to UNCLOS 1982, to which India is a signatory, waters upto 12 nautical miles of a coastline is that country’s sovereign waters and between 12 and 200 nautical miles its EEZ.

Both India and China have made their own rules with regard to this despite being a signatory to the international convention. India says foreign vessels travelling through India’s EEZ has to give prior notification while China says foreign countries need permission from Beijing.

While innocent passage of foreign ships, including navies, through EEZ is allowed by India, no commercial or research activities, including fishing, is allowed.

Also read: Indian Navy veterans slam ‘childish’ US response to Roosevelt ship incident

US move ‘uncalled for and unnecessary’

While the Indian Navy is yet to respond officially to the US move, former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash told ThePrint: “This action, especially publicising it, was both uncalled for and unnecessary — especially in context of a friend and strategic partner.”

Explaining the nuances of the US move, the admiral said it was a messaging to China. He added that the situation is ironic because the US itself has not ratified the UNCLOS but quotes it to other countries.

“The US is quoting UNCLOS 1982, which it has not ratified. India has ratified the law but says that prior intimation is needed for passage through EEZ and restricts any kind of economic or research activity,” he said.

The former Navy chief added that there is no restriction on innocent passage through India’s EEZ but needs prior intimation.

“What the US has done is violated India’s rules but it has not violated any international law. This step is actually part of its messaging to China,” he said.

The US statement said it operates in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis.

All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, it said.

“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements,” it added in what is seen as an oblique messaging to China.

MEA responds

In a statement issued Friday evening, India’s external affairs ministry said it had raised the matter of the USS John Paul Jones passing through the EEZ with the US.

“The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits. We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of U.S.A through diplomatic channels,” it said.

India reiterated its adherence to the UNCLOS and said that the laws under this “does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state.”

The incident comes close on the heels of US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s visit to India, which was the first high-level visit under the new Joe Biden administration.

India, US, Japan and Australia — that constitute the Quad grouping — also recently held their first summit in March under the larger ambit of the strategic Indo-Pacific strategic initiative.

(With inputs from Nayanima Basu)

(This report has been updated with details of the statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs.)

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)

Also read: US plans new fleet for Indo-Pacific region as it focuses on ties with India, countering China


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  1. Biden Era indicates sharp departure from previous leaderships of Clinton,Bush,Obama & Trump; on its courtesy to Indian leardership. This FONOP message is loud and not polite, to put forth a challenge that touched the Indian psycho, only to remind its colonial past. Thanks to Biden Admin, there wont be much to be proud for many indian americans by side kicking India, in the event of looming chinese challenge and afghan challenge exploited by pakistan-turkey team. There is a need to update imperfect laws made in the past that allowed USA to shout imploite messages on its undisturbed, willful voilations called ‘innocent passages’ of warship carrying arms and explosives in some other’s EEZs illegaly, since the law does not prevent any island territories from having its own claim of EEZs.

  2. Moral for Indian people: “The tiger, trying to kill and eat me will come after you when he is done with me.”

  3. Slowly but surely we are going to pay for being in the US side ditching long term friend Russia. In future, they will dictate our foreign and military policy. Sooner we realise better it will be.

    • @Eka: Keep your ignorance to yourself!!

      Russia is already in Xi’s Chinese pocket as is OBiden, the supposedly American democrat!!
      America is a SHAM of a democracy & Russia a Dictatorship!!

  4. Moral for Indian people: “The tiger, trying to kill me and eat will come after you when he is done with me.”

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