A Chinese Navy ship stole an American oceanographic underwater drone in the South China Sea approximately 40 miles west of the Philippines and about 150 miles from Scarborough Shoal, an area contested by the Chinese and the Philippines, two U.S. defense officials told Fox News.
The incident occurred around noon Thursday local time. For days, the Chinese ship had been shadowing the American ship USNS Bowditch, which deployed the drone.
The research ship was owned by the U.S. Navy but operated by Military Sealift Command, with a crew of contracted civilian mariners and scientists.
The Chinese have been regularly shadowing U.S. Navy vessels in the South China Sea for months, Fox News was told.
Fox News was told the underwater drone was used to map the sea floor and other oceanographic data. According to the USNS Bowditch ship’s website, the ship is used to “support worldwide oceanography programs, including performing acoustical, biological, physical and geophysical surveys.”
The drone was worth roughly $150,000.
After the Chinese vessel plucked the drone out of the water, the American research ship attempted to call the Chinese ship over bridge-to-bridge radio, but to no avail.
The State Dept. launched a formal protest known as a demarche by the U.S. Ambassador and delivered to the Chinese government today, Fox News was told.
There was no immediate comment from the State Dept. when Fox News reached out for comment.