On February 12, 1988, USS Yorktown (CG 48) and USS Caron (DD970) were attempting to exercise the right of innocent passage through Soviet territorial waters in the Black Sea when they were intentionally bumped by Soviet frigates. The ships experienced only minor damage from the collision. The U.S. protested the incident but the Russians claimed that the American ships had been “dangerously maneuvering in Soviet waters.”

The Incident

On February 12 1988, USS Yorktown (CG 48), and USS Caron (DD 970), conducted an innocent passage exercise in the Black Sea. Caron passed 7.5 mi off the Soviet shore, and Yorktown drew to 10.3 mi offshore. The commander of the Black Sea Fleet Mikhail Khronopulo received an order from Chernavin to curb the passage of US warships. Initially the destroyer Krasnyy Kavkaz was tasked with confronting them, but she experienced technical problems so Bezzavetnyy, a Krivak-class frigate, was dispatched instead. However, according to Bezzavetny’s commander, Captain Vladimir Bogdashin, his ship had two cruise missiles instead of four, was half the size of Yorktown, and was only a third its size by displacement. The Soviet frigate SKR-6, commanded by Captain Anatoliy Petrov, was approximately one quarter the size of the Caron.

First, Caron was approached by the frigate SKR-6, and three minutes later, Yorktown was approached by the frigate Bezzavetnyy, while TU-16 (Badger) bombers monitored the vessels’ movements. As the US warships clipped a corner of the Soviet territorial waters, they were bumped. At 10:02 a.m, local time, at 44°15.2′N 33°35.4′E, 10.5 nautical miles; 12.1 mi from the coast, SKR-6 bumped the port side aft of Caron at frame about 60 feet from the bow. Caron received superficial scraping of paint, with no personnel injuries. Bezzavetnyy, having bumped Yorktown, was ordered to move away and not to contact her again.

Both US warships stayed on even course after the incident. Caron left Soviet territorial waters at 11:50 a.m. local time without further incident.

Both US warships reported the incident to the commander-in-chief of United States Naval Forces Europe, Admiral James B. Busey. Caron reported that, at 13:20 local time, it was informed on bridge-to-bridge, channel 16 VHF by Bezzavetnyy: “Soviet ships have orders to prevent violation of territorial waters, extreme measure is to strike your ship with one of ours.” The reply of Caron was “I am engaged in innocent passage consistent with international law.” Yorktown, in its report stated that on 9:56, local time, it was contacted by Bezzavetnyy via channel 16 and told to leave Soviet territorial waters or “our ship is going to strike on yours.” Then, according to the report, Bezzavetnyy came alongside port side of Yorktown at 10:03 and bumped it by turning into the ship.

The starboard anchor of Bezzavetnyy was torn away. Two Harpoon missile canisters on Yorktown sustained damage when Bezzavetnyy’s bullnose passed down port quarter. Bezzavetnyy then cleared to port and took station 300 yd off the port beam of Yorktown. Bezzavetnyy required a minor repair.

The intentional bumping was a significant event in the history of U.S.-Soviet relations and had a lasting impact on U.S. foreign policy and military strategy. The incident serves as a reminder of the dangerous tensions that existed between the two superpowers during the Cold War and the importance of maintaining a strong military presence in regions of strategic importance – including China and South China Sea.