The USS John S. McCain, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, “asserted navigational rights and freedoms” through a freedom of navigation operation near the Peter the Great Bay in the Sea of Japan, a 7th Fleet statement said.
“This freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging Russia's excessive maritime claims,” the statement said.
However, Russia said it caught the U.S. guided-missile destroyer operating illegally in its waters, Reuters reported. The Kremlin said that the Admiral Vinogradov, a Russian destroyer, issued a verbal warning and threatened to ram the U.S. warship before chasing it away.
The bay is the largest gulf in the Sea of Japan, stretching 115 miles. It is named for Czar Peter the Great, who ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725.
In 1984, the Soviet Union claimed the bay as its internal waters by drawing a 106-nautical mile closing line along its coasts. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has maintained the claim, which the Navy said was “inconsistent with the rules of international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.”
“By drawing this closing line, the U.S.S.R. attempted to claim more internal waters - and territorial sea farther from shore - than it is entitled to claim under international law,” the 7th Fleet said.
“By conducting this operation, the United States demonstrated that these waters are not Russia's territorial sea and that the United States does not acquiesce in Russia's claim that Peter the Great is a ‘historic bay’ under international law,” the statement continued.
The U.S. has previously carried out similar operations near China, which continues to assert expansive territorial claims. The Navy often sends warships through the strategic South China Sea.
The Navy said: “As long as some countries continue to assert maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and that purport to restrict unlawfully the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all States, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all."