A retired Russian admiral said there is nothing strange about the soldiers sunbathing amid the near-collision.
“There is a time for war, and a time for sunbathing,” the admiral told state-run Sputnik News.
The outlet reported that the U.S. Navy accused Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov of getting too close to the USS Chancellorsville cruiser in the Philippine Sea, according to the Military Times.
The United States and Moscow accused one another of triggering the near-collision. The U.S. Navy later released photos and videos that allegedly support its claims.
In the footage, it shows at least two Russian soldiers sunbathing shirtless on a helicopter pad. One sailor is sitting and the other is standing.
“Our vessel is on the move in the open sea,” Selivanov was quoted by the Times as saying.
“The seamen and officers have had lunch. They are on their after-lunch break, glad to be serving in the south. Sure, if one was sunbathing, then dozens were. And yes, you have to be undressed to sunbathe,” he stated.
Russian news outlets also highlighted the unusual photos, including state-backed RT, which wrote, “SUNBATHING” in all capital letters.
According to Bill Bray, who works for the U.S. Naval Institute and was a Navy intelligence officer, said that the Russian sunbathers on the helipad were likely part of the helicopter detachment and weren’t part of the ship’s crew, ABC News reported.
“They probably had no clue what Vinogradov was about to do in the vicinity of USS Chancellorsville,” Bray told ABC.
During the Cold War, he said, “Sailors would be walking around on deck without shirts in warm sunny weather. In fact, on several occasions I noticed that they had dogs on board with them.”
The U.S. 7th Fleet said the Russian destroyer put the safety of the USS Chancellorsville and its crew at risk, forcing it to reverse all engines at full throttle to avoid a collision, reported The Associated Press.
“There is a time for war, and a time for sunbathing.”
Retired Russian admiral defends Russian sailors sunbathing during close call with U.S. warship. https://t.co/j531FfQVJO
— ABC News (@ABC) June 12, 2019
It said a helicopter that was operating at sea was preparing to land on the Chancellorsville, which was traveling on a steady course, when the Russian destroyer, traveling behind the U.S. ship, speeded up and approached as close as 50-100 feet (15-30 meters).
Clay Doss, spokesman for the Japan-based 7th Fleet, said no one was injured and he was not aware of any damage to the ship.
“We consider Russia’s actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional and not in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), ‘Rules of the Road,’ and internationally recognized maritime customs,” the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
It was the first such incident involving warships in the region since September, when a Chinese ship maneuvered close to an American destroyer in the South China Sea, an incident the U.S. also labeled unprofessional and unsafe.
In this latest incident, in open ocean northeast of the Philippines, the Russian military accused the Chancellorsville of making a dangerous maneuver by crossing the path of the Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov.
It said in a statement that the U.S. cruiser “suddenly changed direction and crossed the path of Admiral Vinogradov just 50 meters (165 feet) away,” forcing the crew of the Russian ship to make a quick maneuver to avoid collision.
The Russian military said its navy sent a radio message in protest.
With U.S.-Russian relations at post-Cold War lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Russian and U.S. militaries have frequently exchanged accusations of what they describe as unsafe maneuvers by the other side’s warplanes and navy ships.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.