The United States government has said that a Chinese warship seized a United States Navy unmanned underwater glider that was collecting unclassified scientific data in the South China Sea, and the US is demanding its return.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis stated that the US has issued a formal diplomatic complaint over Thursday’s incident, but he was not aware of any response yet.
The Chinese Embassy said it had no immediate comment.
According to Capt. Davis, the USNS Bowditch, a civilian US Navy oceanographic survey ship operated by the military’s Sealift Command, was recovering two of the unmanned gliders about 92 nautical kilometres northwest of Subic Bay near the Philippines when the Chinese ship approached.
He said the Dalang Class Chinese ship, which does rescue and recovery missions, sent out a small boat that then took one of the Navy gliders.
The incident could test relations between US President-elect Donald Trump, left, and China’s President Xi Jinping. Picture: AP
He said the Chinese ship acknowledged radio messages from the US ship, but did not respond to demands the glider be returned.
The Navy drone is a glider, about three metres long and less than half a metre wide, that can be programmed and moves automatically through the water collecting data on temperature, salinity, and other scientific facts used for sonar operations.
“It is ours. It’s clearly marked as ours. We would like it back, and we would like this not to happen again,” Capt. Davis told reporters.
Capt. Davis said the USNS Bowditch was stopped in the water when the Chinese ship approached.
The two vessels were within about 450 metres of each other.
He said the USNS Bowditch carries some small arms, but no shots were fired.
As the Chinese ship left with the drone, the Pentagon said, its only radio response to the US vessel was, “We are returning to normal operations.”
The drone is believed to cost about $150,00