• USNS Bowditch
     USNS Bowditch

Chinese Navy Seizes U.S. Underwater Vessel From International Waters in South China Sea

December 16, 2016
By Sandra Jontz
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A Chinese military ship seized a U.S. underwater, unmanned research vessel, prompting the U.S. Defense Department to launch “appropriate government-to-government channels” with the Chinese government to immediately return the vessel. On Thursday, China unlawfully seized the unclassified ocean glider while sailing in the South China Sea, according to a Defense Department news release. 

The USNS Bowditch and the unmanned underwater vessel (UUV) are used to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature and sound speed, the release states. 

The vessels were “conducting routine operations in accordance with international law about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines, when a Chinese Navy PRC DALANG III-Class ship (ASR-510) launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV,” the release states.

The Bowditch was stopped in the water in order to retrieve the UUV when the Chinese ship approached, put in the water a small boat, and called the U.S. UUV.

Crew from the Bowditch made contact with the Chinese vessel via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV, the DOD statement reads. “The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored. The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law,” reads the DOD statement issued Friday afternoon.

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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