US Naval ship enters India’s exclusive economic zone without permission

April 09, 2021 | Updated 3:37 pm

US Naval ship enters India’s exclusive economic zone without permission US Naval ship USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) (Picture Courtesy: Official US Navy Page;U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aja Bleu Jackson)

New Delhi: US Naval ship USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) on April 7, conducted a freedom of navigation patrol near the Lakshadweep Islands without India’s consent. In a press release, US commander of the 7th fleet stated that it “asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent” and added that their move was consistent with international law.

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This is dissonance with Indian laws that have been attested by Article 3 and 57 of the UNCLOS treaty which reads for signatories like India, their territorial jurisdiction extends to water up to 12 nautical miles from the nearest point of the baseline. Beyond territorial waters is the contiguous zone extending up to 24 nautical miles, and beyond that up to 200 nautical miles forms the exclusive economic zone of India.

The US commander, in their official statement, said, “India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law.”

The US side claims that the freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) “upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law” and is challenging “India’s excessive maritime claims”.

Explaining the entry of US guided-missile destroyer into Indian waters, US commander said, ” US Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

It further added that this will not be a one-time manoeuvre, and the US forces will continue in the future. “We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements,” the statement released on April 7 read.

It must be noted that the UNCLOS treaty came into force in 1994. Although the United States recognizes the UNCLOS as a codification of customary international law, it has not ratified it. The move can spark a diplomatic row between the two countries, after having shared diplomatic bonhomie on various international forums including ‘QUAD‘ to balance aggressive China in the Indo-Pacific region where China enjoys a near-monopoly on rare earth materials extraction.

The Indian Government has stayed silent and is yet to release an official statement.