The U.S. Navy routinely conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) throughout the world.
FONOPs are operations by U.S. naval and air forces that strengthen internationally recognized rights and freedoms by challenging excessive maritime claims, which according to the U.S. Department of Defense are attempts by coastal nations to unlawfully claim territorial waters and restrict the navigational freedoms and movements of ships.
One notable example is in the South China Sea where the Chinese government has claimed 90 percent of the sea since 2015 by building military installations on several island chains. The U.S. has continued to challenge those claims by sending their ships on patrol routinely.
Under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, territorial waters are considered to extend 12 nautical miles from a country’s shore.
In January of this year the littoral combat ship USS Detroit conducted a FONOP off the coast of Venezuela. U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), said during a U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee testimony in January that the USS Detroit had been involved in counternarcotic and law enforcement operations.
The USS Detroit “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in international waters, outside of the lawful limits of Venezuela’s territorial sea,” SOUTHCOM said in a statement at that time, after a Venezuelan patrol boat trailed the naval ship for a short period. “All of our operations are designed to be conducted in accordance with maritime laws and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” the statement added.