U.S. Navy Vigilant in South China Sea to Protect Threatened Oil Tanker

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SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 12, 2020) The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) conducts routine operations near the Panamanian flagged drill ship, West Capella, May 12, 2020. Gabrielle Giffords, part of Destroyer Squadron Seven, is on a rotational deployment, operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as a ready-response force. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brenton Poyser/Released)

The U.S. Navy said it maintains a presence near the West Capella Oil Driller in the South China Sea, protecting the Panamanian-flagged tanker from incursions by Chinese warships. This is the 2nd time that an Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) ship has patrolled the region since May 7th.

The West Capella is under charter to Petronas [PETR.UL], Malaysia’s state owned energy company. Petronas is the sole custodian of petroleum resources in Malaysia, the world’s third-biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas by capacity.

The Capella has been operating near the outer edge of Malaysia’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), off the state of Sarawak, since late 2019.

The Chinese People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships and China Coast Guard vessels had been operating near the Malaysian-contracted drilling ship, causing concern for the US and our allies.

“We are committed to a rules-based order in the South China Sea, and we will continue to champion freedom of the seas and the rule of law. The Chinese Communist Party must end its pattern of bullying Southeast Asians out of offshore oil, gas, and fisheries.” said Adm. John Aquilino, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander.

The USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) patrolled the area on May 12, to support freedom of navigation and overflight, while reinforcing that the U.S. Navy will fly, sail and operate in the South China Sea wherever international law permits.

A joint exercise was conducted in late April with the Royal Australian Navy in the region where the USS America (LHA 6), USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and USS Barry (DDG 52) sailed together with the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154), signaling U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific to allies and partners in the area.

“Routine presence operations, like Gabrielle Giffords’, reaffirms the U.S. will continue to fly and sail freely, in accordance with international law and maritime norms, regardless of excessive claims or current events,” said Bill Merz, Vice Adm., Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. “The U.S. supports the efforts of our allies and partners in the lawful pursuit of their economic interests.”

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SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 12, 2020) The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) conducts routine operations near the Panamanian flagged drill ship, West Capella, May 12, 2020. Gabrielle Giffords, part of Destroyer Squadron Seven, is on a rotational deployment, operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as a ready-response force. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Fire Controlman Shaun Tucker/Released)

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