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Four photos taken by the US Navy illustrate the episode on Sunday when the Lanzhou and the USS Decatur approached just 41 meters away in the vicinity of the archipelago of the Spratly Islands, an area disputed in the South China Sea.
Dramatic photos leaked on Tuesday show the US destroyer USS Decatur and its Chinese counterpart, the Type 052C Lanzhou, nearly collided in the South China Sea (also known as the South China Sea) during a confusing incident Sunday.
The images were broadcast by the gCaptain maritime news site, and then CNN confirmed that they were authentic and were taken by the United States Navy, based on three anonymous sources belonging to that institution.
They show the moment in which the Lanzhou approaches dangerously to the Decatur and crosses in its way to scarce 41 meters of distance, after which the American ship had to do a sharp turn to avoid a collision.
Taking into account that both vessels have a length (length from bow to stern) of 154 meters and a displacement of approximately 7,000 tons, the short distance between them is even more dramatic, as the photos show.
The incident occurred on Sunday when the Decatur was sailing international waters in the disputed archipelago of the Spratly Islands, intended by China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The vessel was practicing a “freedom of navigation operation” at 12 nautical miles (about 22 kilometres) from Gaven Reef, of the type that the United States regularly performs in international waters near disputed territories to ensure free navigation. This area, especially, is close to some of the most important maritime commercial lines in the world.
China, for its part, has been militarizing the islands of Spratly that it keeps under its control to reinforce its territorial claim, and often patrol the coasts aggressively.
Then the Lanzhou was sent to intercept the Decatur and force him to retreat, approaching a dangerous distance in what the US Department of Defense described as an “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuver.
China’s defence ministry issued its own statement alleging that the Luyang “gave a warning” to Decatur after it entered the area “without permission.”
Relations between China and the United States are at a time of great tension since the arrival of President Donald Trump to power in 2017. In addition to the numerous frictions in the South China Sea, they are also stranded in a marked trade war by reciprocal rates to different products and by differences in the strategy to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
Lanzhou and Decatur are two front-line destroyers in the marinas of their respective countries, with similar combat capabilities against targets on land, air and sea.
The Chinese vessel, Type 052C or Luyang II class, entered service in 2004 with a displacement of 7,000 tons, 154 meters in length and 17 meters in width (width). It can sail at a speed of 30 knots (56 kilometres per hour) and is armed with a 100-millimetre cannon, anti-ship and anti-surface missiles, torpedoes and a variety of anti-aircraft weapons. It also carries its own helicopter and a crew of 280 sailors.
In as much, the Decatur, of the Arleigh Burke class, began to operate in 1998 with a displacement of between 6,752 and 8,886 tons, depending on the configuration, a length of 154 meters and a beam of 20 meters. Its speed also reaches 30 knots and is armed with a 127-millimetre cannon, different types of missiles, including the Tomahawk cruiser, and numerous automatic anti-aircraft guns. It also has an onboard helicopter and if the crew reaches 281 sailors.