India protests U.S. Navy’s transit through its exclusive economic zone

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India protested to the United States for a navy vessel conducting a transit through its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) without consent, the foreign ministry said on Friday, in a rare row between the friendly navies of the two countries.

The USS John Paul Jones “asserted navigational rights and freedoms,” inside India’s EEZ in line with international law by sailing about 130 nautical miles (241 km) west of India’s Lakshadweep islands, the U.S. Seventh Fleet said in a statement on Wednesday.

But an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement that UN rules did not allow such passage without consent.

“The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state,” the spokesman said.

India’s military monitored the movement of the John Paul Jones as it transited from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits, the foreign ministry said.

The U.S. Navy has previously conducted so-called freedom of navigation sails through Indian waters without consent, with the last one in the fiscal year for 2019, according to an annual U.S. Defense Department report.

However, the former Chief of India’s Naval Staff Arun Prakash questioned why the U.S. announced the operation in the waters of an apparent ally.

“For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoN missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it?” he wrote on Twitter on Friday.

The navies of India and the United States carry out large scale exercises each year that now involve Japan and Australia. The four countries have formed an informal security grouping called the Quad to push back against China’s expanding power.

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