Days after the first summit of the Quadrilateral grouping and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin's visit to India, the US Seventh Fleet announced that one of its warships, USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), had conducted a Freedom of Navigation operation west of Lakshadweep Islands, "inside India's exclusive economic zone, without requesting India's prior consent, consistent with international law".
Responding to this public announcement, India said: "We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of USA through diplomatic channels."
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs stated: "The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits", reported The Indian Express.
"The Government of India's stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state," the statement said.
In a statement released on April 7, the US Seventh Fleet said: "USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India's exclusive economic zone, without requesting India's prior consent, consistent with international law."
"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," it added.
"US Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements," the statement said.
As per the Indian law, the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976, "all foreign ships shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters" and a passage is innocent "so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of India".
"Foreign warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles may enter or pass through the territorial waters after giving prior notice to the Central Government," the law states.
The public announcement of the operation comes at a time when military cooperation between India and the US is increasing.
In March, Secretary of Defence Austin conveyed to India the Biden administration's "commitment towards strengthening the bilateral defence relations between the two countries".
India and the US, along with Australia and Japan, form the Quadrilateral grouping.
Reacting to the Seventh Fleet statement, former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash tweeted: "There is irony here. While India ratified UN Law of the Seas in 1995, the US has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoN missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it? USN please switch on IFF!" — IFF stands for Identification, Friend or Foe.
He also questioned the motive behind the move.
"FoN ops by USN ships (ineffective as they may be) in South China Sea, are meant to convey a message to China that the putative EEZ around the artificial SCS islands is an "excessive maritime claim." But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?" he said.