A notorious US naval destroyer sparked a diplomatic incident on Tuesday morning after Russia claimed that it had launched an incursion into its territorial waters.
The USS John S McCain, a specialist combat ship designed to hunt submarines, was operating in the Sea of Japan (also called the East Sea), off the coast of the Russian Far Eastern capital, Vladivostok. Authorities say it was more than two kilometers inside Russia’s internationally recognized maritime border.
A statement from the Ministry of Defense in Moscow said that the vessel had “violated” Russian waters and was “warned of the unacceptability of its actions” by the Udaloy-class destroyer Admiral Vinogradov, which had been tailing it. The communiqué added that sailors had told the American ship of the “potential of resorting to ramming to force the trespasser out of the territory.” The US navy has not yet issued a response.
This is not the first time that the USS John McCain has been involved in high-risk incidents at sea. In 2017, ten American sailors died after the vessel collided with a Liberian-flagged tanker, resulting in flooding and putting the warship out of action until October 2019. An investigation into that incident warned of an overly complex touch-screen system used to control the ship’s throttle, and a lack of training of its crew.
Named after naval pilot and Republican senator John McCain, who died in 2018, the ship has repeatedly been singled out for criticism by President Donald Trump. McCain himself had been one of Trump’s biggest critics, arguing that his 2016 election campaign had “fired up the crazies.” The Wall Street Journal reported in 2019 that White House aides had asked for the ship to be moved “out of sight” of the president on a trip to Japan in 2019, to avoid angering him.