Navy commanding officer describes encounters with Chinese ships on South China Sea patrol

The commanding officer of a U.S. Navy destroyer that challenged China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea last week spoke for the first time of his ship’s encounters with Beijing’s navy Thursday.

Cmdr. Robert C. Francis Jr. told reporters that the USS Lassen patrolled with about six or seven miles of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands, well within the 12-mile territorial limit claimed by China.

Francis said the crew of a Chinese destroyer that shadowed the Lassen for several days contacted the ship with a standard “query” about what the Lassen was doing. Francis said his crew replied that it was operating in international waters in accord with international law.

But the Chinese pressed the matter, he said, by repeating the query over and over.

“All of our interactions were very professional,” Francis said. “I never felt threatened.” According to Reuters, Francis said the Lassen has had about 50 “interactions” with Chinese military planes and ships on his patrols in the South and East China Seas since May. The commander described that amount of contact as routine.