A U.S. Navy sailor has presumably gone missing from the USS Stetham somewhere in the waters of the South China Sea, Defense News reported Tuesday. "I appreciate greatly the dedication and professionalism shown by all who participated in the search efforts".
China, which claims virtually all of the South China Sea, accused the U.S. in July of trespassing in its waters when the USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Chinese navy and two Japanese military ships aided in the search.
Hopkins was reported missing about 9 a.m.as the ship transited 140 miles west of Subic Bay, Philippines, a Navy statement said. The US, Japan and China "spent 79 hours in a comprehensive search that covered roughly 25,900 square kilometres", the US 7th Fleet said.
According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang, the USS Stethem missile destroyer trespassed Chinese territorial waters off the Xisha/Paracel Islands in South China Sea.
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"After an extensive search, with help from the JMSDF and PLA (N), we were unable to locate our Sailor", said Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, commander, Destroyer Squadron 15.
The incident is now being investigated.
The South China Sea area is a disputed region claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam, as it is believed that it has vast energy resources.
Beijing has pursued claims on almost the entire territory of the South China Sea by building military facilities and conducting naval exercises - despite partial counter-claims from nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
Officials with the 7th Fleet said the participation of China and Japan in the search demonstrated "the common bond shared by all mariners to render assistance at sea".