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The ‘Case’ of USNS Impeccable Versus 5 Chinese Ships: A Close Examination of the Facts, the Evidence, and the Law

The ‘Case’ of USNS Impeccable Versus 5 Chinese Ships: A Close Examination of the Facts, the Evidence, and the Law

Jonathan G. Odom

in Governing Ocean Resources: New Challenges and Emerging Regimes (Jon Van Dyke, et al., eds.)(2013), at 307-341.


Many in the international law and foreign affairs communities are aware that an incident occurred on March 8, 2009, in the South China Sea, involving the United States Naval Ship (USNS) Impeccable (T-AGOS-23) and five vessels from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Only a small percentage, however, are familiar with the March 8 incident — what has come to be called the “Impeccable Incident” — in substantial detail, both factually and legally. Although the incident was reported by the news media in the weeks following the incident, such reporting was merely the “first rough draft of history”. Therefore, much like how a courtroom trial provides a community with an opportunity to step back and dispassionately examine an alleged crime or civil wrong with deliberate consideration, so too is there value in the international community stepping back and reflecting upon this maritime incident in greater depth. Effective reflection on the incident can occur only when detached observers have an opportunity to weigh the actual facts of that day, apply international law to those facts, and reach a well-considered legal judgment — in essence, a “verdict” — on the incident. To reach such an informal verdict, these observers must be presented with detailed perspectives from the two nations involved. The purpose of this article is to provide such a detailed perspective from one of those nations — in this case, the United States.
Download the paper at The ‘Case’ of USNS Impeccable Versus 5 Chinese Ships
Watch a video shot by a crewmember aboard the USNS Impeccable (Footage provided by Navy Visual News Service): 


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