New Delhi: A US guided missile destroyer sailed through India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, without intimating India — in violation of the Indian law.
Sources in the Indian naval establishment, while accepting that the US move was a violation, said it is more of a “messaging to China” than anything else.
A statement released by the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said, “On April 7, 2021 (local time) USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) 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, consistent with international law.”
It said India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its EEZ or continental shelf, and added that this claim is inconsistent with international law.
This freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims, it said.
Incidentally, according to the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, to which India is a signatory, waters upto 12 nautical miles of a coastline is that country’s sovereign waters and between 12 and 200 nautical miles its EEZ.
Both India and China have made their own rules with regard to this despite being a signatory to the international convention. India says foreign vessels travelling through India’s EEZ has to give prior notification while China says foreign countries need permission from Beijing.
While innocent passage of foreign ships, including navies, through EEZ is allowed by India, no commercial or research activities, including fishing, is allowed.
US move ‘uncalled for and unnecessary’
While the Indian Navy is yet to respond officially to the US move, former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash told ThePrint: “This action, especially publicising it, was both uncalled for and unnecessary — especially in context of a friend and strategic partner.”
Explaining the nuances of the US move, the admiral said it was a messaging to China. He added that the situation is ironic because the US itself has not ratified the UNCLOS but quotes it to other countries.
“The US is quoting UNCLOS 1982, which it has not ratified. India has ratified the law but says that prior intimation is needed for passage through EEZ and restricts any kind of economic or research activity,” he said.
The former Navy chief added that there is no restriction on innocent passage through India’s EEZ but needs prior intimation.
“What the US has done is violated India’s rules but it has not violated any international law. This step is actually part of its messaging to China,” he said.
The US statement said it operates 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 said.
“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,” it added in what is seen as an oblique messaging to China.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)
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