• A U.S. Navy buoyancy glider, similar to one that was seized December 15, 2016, by the Chinese navy. The vessel was returned to the U.S. Navy December 20.
     A U.S. Navy buoyancy glider, similar to one that was seized December 15, 2016, by the Chinese navy. The vessel was returned to the U.S. Navy December 20.
  • The USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic sampling and data collector of surface, mid-water and ocean floor parameters.
     The USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic sampling and data collector of surface, mid-water and ocean floor parameters.

China Returns Seized U.S. Navy's Unmanned Vessel

December 20, 2016
By Sandra Jontz
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Chinese naval forces returned a U.S. Navy underwater, unmanned research vessel on Tuesday, near the location where it was unlawfully seized late last week, according to a U.S. Defense Department statement.

Crewmembers from the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Mustin recovered the vessel, one of two that had been gathering military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature and sound speed on Thursday in international waters approximately 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay. A Chinese navy ship took the unmanned underwater vessel (UUV) before it could be recovered by the U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch, which had been operating near the same spot last week.

“The seized UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the U.S. Navy, which was conducting routine operations in the international waters of the South China Sea in full compliance with international law,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in the statement. “It had just completed a pre-programmed military oceanographic survey route and was returning to the nearby USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62). Ocean Gliders such as this are used regularly by the U.S. Navy and other militaries throughout the world.”

The incident stoked already tense relations between the United States and China. “This incident was inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea,” Cook said. “The U.S. has addressed those facts with the Chinese through the appropriate diplomatic and military channels, and have called on Chinese authorities to comply with their obligations under international law and to refrain from further efforts to impede lawful U.S. activities. The U.S. will continue to investigate the events surrounding this incident and address any additional findings with the Chinese, as part of our ongoing diplomatic dialogues and the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement Mechanism.”

The Bowditch serves as an oceanographic sampling and data collector of surface, mid-water and ocean floor parameters. It employs two hydrographic survey launches, UUVs that collect data. The Bowditch is operated by the Military Sealift Command for the Naval Oceanographic Office, a component of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command headquartered at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Bowditch is one of six Pathfinder-class ships with an all-civilian crew and scientific support personnel.

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