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A Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crewmember observing a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea on Sept. 19, 2022. The Kimball on a routine patrol encountered the Chinese guided-missile cruiser Renhai sailing approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island, Alaska.

A Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crewmember observing a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea on Sept. 19, 2022. The Kimball on a routine patrol encountered the Chinese guided-missile cruiser Renhai sailing approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island, Alaska. (U.S. Coast Guard District 17)

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter sighted a formation of Russian and Chinese war ships near an Alaskan island last week, triggering the crew to commence an ongoing monitoring operation, the Coast Guard reported Monday.

The crew of the Honolulu-based cutter Kimball was on a routine patrol of the Bering Sea on Sept. 19 when they encountered the Chinese guided-missile cruiser Renhai about 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island, Alaska, the service said in a news release.

Kiska Island is part of the Aleutian Islands and lies roughly 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage. The island is about 700 miles from Russia.

The crew later identified the Renhai and two additional Chinese naval vessels in formation with four Russian naval vessels — including a Russian destroyer — operating within the United States’ exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, the Coast Guard said.

The formation was operating as a “combined surface action group,” the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard sightings last week likely were part of a joint Russian-Chinese naval exercise announced by Russia’s defense ministry on Sept. 15.

The exercises were to include tactical maneuvering, communications, firing of artillery and helicopter operations, according to a Sept. 14 report by Russia's Tass news agency.

As a result of the sightings, the Kimball began operating under Operation Frontier Sentinel, which is “designed to meet presence with presence when strategic competitors operate in and around U.S. waters,” the Coast Guard said.

Kimball is a 418-foot Legend-class national security cutter.

“While the surface action group was temporary in nature, and Kimball observed it disperse, the Kimball will continue to monitor activities in the U.S. EEZ to ensure the safety of U.S. vessels and international commerce in the area,” the Coast Guard said.

An EEZ is an area of sea in which a sovereign state, based on international law, has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources.

Rear Adm. Nathan Moore, commander of the Coast Guard’s 17th District based in Alaska, said in the news release that the formation had been operating in accordance with international rules.

It is not unusual for Russia to conduct naval maneuvers in the Bering Sea. In August 2020, Russia conducted massive war games near Alaska that included dozens of ships and aircraft.

Relations between Beijing and Moscow have warmed recently, particularly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

Earlier this month, Russia, China and 12 other countries conducted wide-ranging drills in East Asia, with Russian and Chinese warships steaming through the Sea of Japan.

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.

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