A group of Russian and Chinese warships were spotted in the Bering Sea several dozen miles off an Alaskan island on September 19, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Monday, confirming Moscow and Beijing’s second joint-patrol in 12 months.
The crew of the Legend-class cutter USCGC Kimball monitored a surface action group comprising at least seven ships—four of the Russian Navy and three of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, according to the Coast Guard’s 17th District.
A statement said the Chinese navy’s Type 055 destroyer Nanchang, which the U.S. classifies as a guided-missile cruiser, sailed approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island. The Nanchang was joined by two other Chinese vessels and four Russian naval vessels, “all in a single formation” as they operated in the U.S. exclusive economic zone.
The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea grants each coastal state an EEZ—a sovereign right to the area’s maritime resources—of no more than 200 nautical miles from beyond its 12 nautical mile territorial sea. The Coast Guard’s 17th District covers more than 3.8 million square miles of ocean around Alaska and in the Arctic.
The Kimball, which was supported by a C-130 Hercules maritime patrol aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, observed the group until it dispersed. The joint-patrol was “temporary in nature,” the statement said.
“While the formation has operated in accordance with international rules and norms, we will meet presence-with-presence to ensure there are no disruptions to U.S. interests in the maritime environment around Alaska,” Rear Adm. Nathan Moore, commander of the Coast Guard’s 17th District, was quoted as saying.
The statement was accompanied by a photograph of the Kimball‘s crew monitoring a naval vessel from afar. The ship’s silhouette resembles that of the Russian Navy’s Udaloy-class destroyer RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov, which was said to be taking part in joint-naval exercises in the Pacific with the PLA Navy, according to an announcement on September 15.
On Friday, Russia‘s defense ministry said the Marshal Shaposhnikov was joined by Steregushchiy-class corvettes RFS Aldar Tsydenzhapov, RFS Sovershennyy, RFS Gromky and the sea tanker Pechenga—all part of the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet.
China sent the Nanchang, the Type 054A frigate Yancheng and the Type 903A replenishment ship Dongpinghu of the PLA Navy’s North Sea Fleet, Moscow’s statement said. The three warships took part in Russia’s quadrennial Vostok war games earlier in September. The Nanchang and the Dongpinghu also participated in Russia-China exercises in the Pacific a year ago.
The joint-naval exercise was another sign of warming military ties between Beijing and Moscow and was a rare instance of China exercising the right to freedom of navigation. The Chinese navy does not perform “far seas” patrols off U.S. territory nearly as often as American warships navigate the waters around China, including in the Taiwan Strait and the East and South China seas.
The Russian defense ministry said the two navies conducted anti-submarine missions, search and rescue operations, air-defense drills and several rounds of water and fuel replenishment at sea.
“Russian and Chinese warships have sailed more than 3,000 nautical miles in the past 12 days and are continuing their patrols,” Russia’s Tass news agency said.
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