On Jan. 9, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that a Russian navy surveillance vessel on course in the Arabian Sea was cut off by the American destroyer the USS Farragut. As the state news agency TASS reported on Jan. 11:
“The US destroyer crossed traffic lane of the Russian Navy ship in the Arabian Sea, as the American crew was acting unprofessionally, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday.”
According to TASS, the Russian Defense Ministry statement cited the 1972 Convention on International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), which, among other issues, regulate which vessel has the right-of-way in a number of maritime situations. Specifically, they cite Rule 15, which states:
“When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.”
The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet voiced its own complaint, accusing the Russian vessel of “aggressively approaching” the Farragut from the rear. The Navy Times reported that the American ship sounded “five short blasts, the international maritime signal for a danger of collision.” The fleet’s statement said that the Russian vessel initially ignored the warning but did ultimately change its course.
On Twitter, the 5th Fleet released two video clips, one shot from the starboard deck of the Farragut showing the Russian vessel moving alongside it, almost parallel. The second video shows a view at the Farragut’s stern, where the Russian vessel can be seen crossing the path of the Farragut from behind and coming very close to its stern. It is not clear whether either vessel accelerated or decelerated when they came close, although it appears that the Russian ship closes in on the Farragut. In both videos, the Farragut’s warning horn blasts can be heard.
In the first video, the Russian vessel is to the starboard of the Farragut, suggesting it could have right-of-way as per COLREGS. However, it is not clear from that video whether they were on a course to intersect. That does appear to be the case in the second video, where each ship’s wake can be seen. Their paths cross behind the Farragut, however, with the Russian vessel coming within shouting distance to the Farragut before crossing. The Farragut’s warning blasts can also be heard during this clip.
This wasn’t the first such faceoff between the two navies.
Last summer, a similar dispute arose in the Philippine Sea between the USS Chancellorsville and a different Russian naval vessel. The U.S. Navy asserted that the Chancellorsville, a cruiser, had the right of way because it was waiting for its helicopter to land on deck at the time it was approached by the Russian ship. According COLREGS, a vessel in the process of recovering an aircraft is classified as a “vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver,” and thus should be avoided by other vessels.
Once again, the Russians blamed the Americans, and the U.S. Navy provided photos and video that appeared to support its claims.