USS JOHN PAUL JONES (DDG-53)/FleetMoon file Photo-CTTO.

In an unprecedented move that is already raising eyebrows worldwide, the US Navy conducted a freedom of navigation patrol in Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters this week, without India’s preliminary consent. The forces declared that the move was aimed at challenging India’s “excessive maritime claims”.

Even though patrols of this nature in disputed waters, like the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, are common, a similar exercise in Indian waters comes as a surprise, since India is perceived as a natural ally of the US in Asia-Pacific.

The Commander of the US seventh fleet, in a press release, stated: “On April 7, USS JOHN PAUL JONES asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone [EEZ], without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law”.

The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet is infamous in India. The reason: it sailed into the Bay of Bengal in 1971 when the war for the liberation of Bangladesh was underway until Soviet submarines pursued Washington to help its then NATO ally, Pakistan.

The press release went on: “India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers 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 press release specifically states that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS JOHN PAUL JONES carried out the FONOP within India’s EEZ without prior consent from the Indian side, with international law being followed in the same.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs(MEA), in its response, said that the Seventh Fleet’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer was “continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits”. Focusing on clearing the air via diplomatic channels, the note added, “We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of USA through diplomatic channels.”

Indian rules state that military ships of all nations have to take prior consent while entering its EEZ, extending up to 200 nautical miles from shore. In the recent past, Chinese research vessels were spotted in Indian EEZ. They were met with resistance by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, which chased it away.

Following the official press note, it can be concluded that the US warship was not challenged by its Indian counterparts while it was passing through the EEZ. (FleetMon)