In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the South China Morning Post, the U.S. Navy on Thursday released video of an unsafe encounter between a Chinese warship and the destroyer USS Decatur in September 2018.
The Chinese ship, a Luyang-class destroyer, made an aggressive approach to the Decatur in the South China Sea during the incident, essentially playing “chicken” with the American warship. The Chinese crew is seen in the video tossing buoys overboard and bracing for impact as it comes within 45 yards of the American ship:
USS Decatur was performing a Freedom of Navigation patrol (FONOP) near the Spratly Islands in the South China sea when the encounter occurred. China claims almost the entire region as its territory despite rival claims from other nations and judgments against Beijing in international court. The U.S. Navy frequently sends ships through the area to maintain the freedom of international navigation.
The South China Morning Post noted that communications between the two ships included the Chinese vessel warning USS Decatur it would “suffer consequences” if it failed to change course. The United States denounced the “increasingly aggressive” actions of the Chinese ship throughout the encounter as “unsafe and unprofessional.”
The Chinese Defense Ministry claimed the U.S. ship entered a restricted area “without permission” and was given “a warning to leave” during the encounter.
The Decatur returned to port in San Diego in April 2019 after the deployment that included its FONOP in the Spratly Islands and rescuing some Sri Lankan fishermen. Cmdr. Bob Bowen, the Decatur’s commanding officer, said the deployment “highlighted every capability that dynamic force employment provides.”
“We were successful on deployment, providing the fleet commanders with a well-trained and equipped surface combatant capable of executing any mission assigned. We answered the call, whether it be to assist fellow mariners at sea or conduct maritime security operations in both fleets,” he said, referring to the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the U.S. 3rd Fleet in the Indo-Pacific.
Cmdr. Bowen was relieved of command of the Decatur last Thursday. His squadron commander, Capt. Dan Cobian, said he had “lost confidence in [Bowen’s] ability to command” but did not give other details. A Navy official said the decision to relieve Bowen was made several weeks after an extensive investigation was completed.
The Navy Times report on Bowen’s firing noted his awards include “the Meritorious Service Medal, two Joint Service Commendation Medals and six Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals,” and also mentioned he was in command of the Decatur when it had its dangerous encounter with the Chinese destroyer in September 2018.