US conduct 'freedom patrol' in Indian EEZ
GS Paper - 2 International Relations
In an unusual move, the United States has announced that it conducted patrols in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) this week, without seeking any prior consent, to assert its `navigational right and freedoms’. While such patrols are common in the South China Sea where the US Navy consistently challenges China’s claims on maritime boundaries, the public announcement of similar patrols in Indian waters has come as a surprise.
- The US Navy’s seventh fleet – infamous in India for sailing into the Bay of Bengal in 1971 when the war for liberation of Bangladesh was underway – has stated in an official release that it carried out the patrols near the Lakshadweep Islands on 7 April 2021.
- India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law.
- This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims.
- The US occasionally mentions Indian EEZ waters as areas where it carries out such patrols in the annual Department of Defence Annual Freedom of Navigation (FON) reports but it is rare that such a precise statement about a particular violation of Indian rights is issued.
- As per Indian law, any military ship entering its EEZ that extends 200 nautical miles from shore, has to take prior consent.
- There have been several instances in the recent past where Chinese research vessels have been spotted in Indian EEZ and have been chased away by the Navy and Coast Guard.
- It is unclear yet if the US Navy’s intrusion of the EEZ was met with resistance from Indian forces.