Navy ship is first to dock in Marine port
IWAKUNI MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Japan — The USS Patriot, a diesel-propelled minesweeper, pulled into this Marine Corps-controlled harbor last week, making history as the first Navy ship to dock at a Marine port in the world, military officials here said.
Marine and Naval officials planned the Patriot’s short visit to allow the ship to bring on new supplies and to invite local Japanese media and schoolchildren for goodwill visits.
“It’s a replenishment opportunity for the ship and a leave-and-liberty opportunity for our crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Thomas E. Schultz, captain of the ship. “Coming up to Iwakuni is definitely a treat,” he added during a short news conference with Japanese media.
Most Marine bases around the world use nearby Navy or other military ports to dock, said Iwakuni spokeswoman Master Sgt. Lesli Coakley. In Iwakuni, the Marines’ port is used for the same purpose, and it generally is home to Marine high-speed vessels.
The current port opened two years ago, part of a long-term, $3.5 billion project to move the base’s airstrip further out toward sea in an effort to abate noise pollution, Coakley said.
To make way for the new runway, the former harbor was filled in and a deeper, larger harbor was built. Now, the port can handle a visit from an Essex-class aircraft carrier, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Ken Wright, Iwakuni’s harbor master.
On Friday afternoon, a few of the 80-plus sailors and officers aboard the Patriot gave tours. The minesweeper uses both sonar detection and physical lines sweeping off the boat’s aft to find explosives near shores. The ship’s crew can use an unmanned vehicle to detonate mines; the Patriot also has an explosive ordnance disposal team aboard.
The ship, commissioned in 1991, has been stationed at Sasebo Naval Base with the USS Guardian since 1996. Schultz said Friday he was unable to say how long the ship would be in Iwakuni, saying only that the visit would be “short.”