The US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) has conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands.

The ship is forward-deployed to the US 7th Fleet area of operations that conducts missions in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The USS Benfold (DDG 65) sailed through the South China Sea while performing its routine operations.

The FONOP operation was carried out in accordance with international law and demonstrated navigational freedom in maritime territories that are unlawfully claimed by some nations.

As per the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, ships of all countries have the ‘right of innocent passage’ through a territorial sea.

The US 7th Fleet said in a statement: “This freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law by challenging the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to strait baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands.

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“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for the South China Sea littoral nations.”

In a separate statement, China reportedly accused the US of illegally entering its territorial waters without prior approval, which amounts to serious violation of its sovereignty claim.