US Navy says Black Sea international waters are 'open for all' amid Russian forces threatening HMS Defender

US Navy commanders set to take part in an operation with the Royal Navy in the Black Sea have said the waters are ‘open to the world’ in the wake of Russian aggression.

Tuesday, 29th June 2021, 12:13 pm

Royal Navy and US Navy forces will be part of 32 nations sending more than 30 ships and 40 aircraft to take part in Sea Breeze 2021 over the next two weeks.

The trials in the Black Sea follow Russian forces threatening a Royal Navy destroyer as it passed through the international waters earlier this month, with Portsmouth-based HMS Defender being warned to change course or be fired upon.

The Type 45 destroyer was buzzed by more than 20 Russian jets as it passed through an internationally-recognised shipping lane close to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

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Captain Kyle Gantt, deputy commander of Task Force 65 within the US Navy, at the opening ceremony for Operation Sea Breeze 2021. Picture: Exercise Sea Breeze Twitter Account, @ExSeaBreeze
Captain Kyle Gantt, deputy commander of Task Force 65 within the US Navy, at the opening ceremony for Operation Sea Breeze 2021. Picture: Exercise Sea Breeze Twitter Account, @ExSeaBreeze

Russia’s defence ministry claims to have fired warning shots at HMS Defender, while the UK’s Ministry of Defence assert the salvo was a long-declared Russian gunnery test.

Speaking at a press conference after the incident, US naval top brass told The News at a press conference today they expect all nations to respect international maritime law.

Captain Kyle Gantt, the deputy commander of the US Navy’s Task Force 65, said: ‘We are demonstrating to the world that the Black Sea is open to the world and is not owned by any one nation.

‘What we expect is that all nations will operate professionally at sea and respect international laws.’

HMS Defender in her home city of Portsmouth. Stock picture: Picture: Sarah Standing (143541-8622)

The US naval commander told The News the US Navy had‘no concerns’ about its ability to work with the Royal Navy as the Black Sea drills get underway.

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Cpt Gantt said: ‘The Royal Navy remains a consistent and very capable partner for the United States as well as our allies in Europe and around the world.

‘We have no concerns in our ability to operate with the UK – in fact we are very much looking forward to continuing the longstanding relationship partnering with the Royal Navy on Operation Sea Breeze.’

HMS Trent pictured returning to the Black Sea on Monday, June 28, just days after a clash between Russian forces and Portsmouth-based destroyer, HMS Defender. Photo: Yörük Işık

Last week saw Russia's embassy in Washington call for the drills to be cancelled, and the Russian defence ministry said it would react if necessary to protect its own national security.

The vessel is one of the newest warships to enter the British fleet and can tackle anything drug smuggling gangs and pirates to taking on terror groups and transporting special forces troops.

The ship completed her first trip to the Black Sea earlier this month, carrying out drills with Ukrainian forces.

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