TOKYO – The U.S. Navy has ended a three-day search for a sailor who is believed to have gone overboard during operations in the South China Sea.
A statement on Friday said that U.S., Japanese and Chinese navy vessels and aircraft spent 79 hours combing roughly 10,000 square miles (25,900 square kilometers) of the South China Sea west of the Philippines, demonstrating what it called "the common bond shared by all mariners to render assistance at sea."
The sailor from the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem, based in Yokosuka, Japan, was reported missing and assumed overboard Aug. 1. His name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin, the Navy said.
Rear Adm. Charles Williams, the commander of Task Force 70, offered his prayers for the sailor's loss and thanked all those who participated in the search, which included aircraft from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Ship JS Izumo, JS Sazanami and two People's Liberation Army Navy frigates, in addition to U.S. assets.
China, which claims virtually all of the South China Sea, accused the U.S. in July of trespassing in its waters when the Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles (32 kilometers) of Triton Island in the Paracel islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The operation was aimed at affirming the right to passage and challenging what the U.S. considers China's excessive territorial claims in the area. China sent ships to intercept the destroyer.
China has strongly objected to repeated freedom of navigation missions by the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, where Beijing has rattled neighbors by constructing seven made-man islands in the disputed waters and fortifying them with radars and missiles.