VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- An international incident is brewing in the Pacific, and it involves a U.S. Navy ship.
The Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Stethem had a close encounter with Triton Island over the weekend.
China claims the remote 300 acre parcel, as does Taiwan and Vietnam.
The People's Republic of China on Sunday responded to what it called "a serious political and military provocation" by sending military vessels and fighter jets to the area.
Fox News, BBC, and the Washington Post all report that the Stethem passed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island.
The area is a major shipping route, a rich fishing ground, and is thought to have abundant oil and gas reserves.
The US conducts a program called "freedom of navigation" which the State Department says is designed to highlight the need to protect global maritime rights.
"The problem is, China claims the entire South China Sea as its territorial waters," said retired Navy captain Joe Bouchard of Virginia Beach. "And that is a blatant violation of international law. It's a power grab."
Bouchard is well familiar with that part of the globe, having commanded a Pacific Fleet based destroyer himself in the 80's. He says the Stethem is completely in the right.
"Their transit was totally in compliance with international law. They did absolutely nothing wrong. The Navy does Freedom of Navigation operations all the time."
China's foreign ministry spokesman said the U.S. actions "violate China's sovereignty and threaten China's security."
No comment so far from the Navy.
The USS Stethem is named after former Navy sailor Robert Stethem who was killed by terrorists in the 1985 high jacking of TWA Flight 847.