The USS Russell (DDG 59), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the US Navy, has conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea.

The ship sailed by the disputed Spratly Islands challenging China’s territorial claims in the contested waters.

A US Indo-Pacific Command statement said: “USS Russell asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law.”

The move comes around a week after two carrier strike groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea amid ongoing tensions between the US and China.

The US challenges excessive maritime claims across the world to defend the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all states in accordance with the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.

China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines claim control over some or all of the Spratly Islands. Separately, China, Vietnam and Taiwan demand permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel passes through the region.

The statement added: “The unilateral imposition of any authorisation or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law.

“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the US challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions.”

Last year, another Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Pinckney conducted a FONOP in the Caribbean Sea to challenge Venezuela’s excessive maritime claim in international waters.