U.S., Russian warships in close call in Mediterranean Sea

WASHINGTON, June 29 (UPI) — Russian and U.S. defense officials gave conflicting accounts of the actions of two of their warships, each saying the other was to blame for ships passing dangerously close in the Mediterranean Sea.

A Russian Neustrashimyy-class frigate, the Yarolslav Mudry, approached within 315 yards of the destroyer USS Gravely, which was traveling in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean on June 17, while protecting the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. defense official said the Russian ship raised an international signal displayed when restricted in its ability to maneuver, then repeatedly asked the Gravely by radio to maintain a safe distance. The Russian ship maneuvered to get closer to the Gravely in a one-hour encounter.

“As Gravely changed course and speed, the Neustrashimyy also changed course and speed. The maneuvering demonstrates that the Neustrashimyy was not in fact restricted in her ability to maneuver, and was thus intentionally displaying a false international signal,” a U.S. defense official said.

U.S. officials said they protested the maneuver to Moscow as unsafe, adding they were not fully aware of the incident until this week, when Russian officials presented it to the media.

The Russian Defense ministry countered, in a statement Tuesday, that the Gravely approached the Russian frigate, passing across her course and coming within 55 feet. It added the Russian ship did not divert from its course and refrained from any dangerous maneuvers.

The U.S. ship violated rules in the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, the Russian ministry said.

“The U.S. sailors, in particular, neglected Rule 13, which stipulates that an overtaking vessel must keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken,” the Defense Ministry said.

It added that the USS Gravely had also violated Rule 15, which states a vessel with another vessel on the starboard side must yield and avoid crossing ahead of it.

A video of a portion of the encounter was posted online by state-run Russian news agency RT; U.S. officials said the video fails to display Russian actions and makes it appear that the U.S. ship was at fault.

The incident comes after several close calls between Russian military planes and U.S. warships, earlier this year.

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