A U.S. Navy warship steamed off the Venezuelan coast Wednesday to challenge what it calls “excessive maritime claims” by Caracas.

The guided-missile destroyer William P. Lawrence became at least the third Navy vessel to conduct a freedom of navigation operation, or FONOP, near Venezuela this year.

Sent by U.S. Southern Command, the FONOP aims to challenge Venezuela’s claims to waters that extend three miles beyond their lawful territorial rights, the combatant command said in a statement.

“The U.S. Navy conducts freedom of navigation operations worldwide to demonstrate the United States' commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, access and lawful uses of international waters and airspace guaranteed to all nations,” SOUTHCOM said.

William P. Lawrence and other Navy and U.S. Coast Guard ships are currently operating in the Caribbean Sea as part of an ongoing counter-narcotics operation.

While such FONOPs are mostly conducted in the South China Sea to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims, the sea service has conducted several off Venezuela this year.

The destroyer Pinckney conducted a FONOP off Venezuela in July, and a few weeks before that, the warship Nitze conducted a similar operation.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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