In Unusual Move, US Conducts ‘Freedom Patrol’ In Indian EEZ
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In Unusual Move, US Conducts ‘Freedom Patrol’ In Indian EEZ

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The US statement reveals that the USS John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, carried out the patrol 130 nautical miles west of the Islands

In an unusual move, the United States has announced that it conducted patrols in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) this week, without seeking any prior consent, to assert its `navigational right and freedoms’.

While such patrols are common in the South China Sea where the US Navy consistently challenges China’s claims on maritime boundaries, the public announcement of similar patrols in Indian waters has come as a surprise.

The US Navy’s seventh fleet – infamous in India for sailing into the Bay of Bengal in 1971 when the war for liberation of Bangladesh was underway – has stated in an official release that it carried out the patrols near the Lakshadweep Islands on Wednesday.

“India requires prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvres in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims,” the official release states.

The US statement reveals that the USS John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, carried out the patrol 130 nautical miles west of the Islands. It specially states that the mission was carried out “inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law”.

While there is no statement yet from the Indian government on the announcement, the US release says that the operation are not about making `political statements’. “We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future,” it reads.

The US occasionally mentions Indian EEZ waters as areas where it carries out such patrols in the annual Department of Defence Annual Freedom of Navigation (FON) reports but it is rare that such a precise statement about a particular violation of Indian rights is issued.

As per Indian law, any military ship entering its EEZ that extends 200 nautical miles from shore, has to take prior consent. There have been several instances in the recent past where Chinese research vessels have been spotted in Indian EEZ and have been chased away by the Navy and Coast Guard. It is unclear yet if the US Navy’s intrusion of the EEZ was met with resistance from Indian forces.

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