U.S. warship brings aid to Georgian port
September 6, 2008
The USS Mount Whitney on Friday anchored off the coast of Poti, Georgia, even though Russian forces still are present around the port city, U.S. officials said.
"There is still a Russian occupation there, but the numbers are very small," said Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker, a spokesman for U.S. European Command. "We’ll deal with it by giving each other a wide berth, and not engaging."
The Whitney — the Navy’s 6th Fleet flagship — is not pulling pier side, however. It will be anchored a couple of miles out.
"It’s literally too big to pull into the port, the draft is much too big, and couldn’t have pulled in to Batumi either," said Lt. Patrick Foughty, a spokesman for Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet.
The ship is delivering more than 17 tons of aid, including 4,000 blankets from the U.S. Agency for International Development, juice, powdered milk and hygiene products. Barges will ferry the supplies to the pier — an effort officials hoped would take about a day.
An amphibious command and control ship, the Mount Whitney is the last of three planned U.S. Navy ships tapped to deliver humanitarian aid following combat between Georgia and Russia in early August over Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russian forces bombed Poti, which has a sizable oil shipment facility, during the war, and several Georgian ships were sunk in its harbor.
Russian forces occupied some of the port in recent weeks, and Russian peacekeeping troops are stationed in at least two locations outside the city, alongside major roads, The Associated Press has reported.
The two earlier U.S. ships steered clear of the contentious port, with the USS McFaul and Coast Guard cutter Dallas pulling into Batumi, roughly 35 miles south, and farther from the citizens in need of the aid.
Security teams on the ground in Georgia assessed the port and deemed Poti safe for the off-loading of Mount Whitney’s humanitarian supplies, Foughty said.
"Basically, we’re always weighing options whenever we make a port visit anywhere. We got ground approval it was safe, and it’s much more efficient to get our supplies out," Foughty said.
The U.S. has provided $22 million in humanitarian aid to Georgia, and the U.S. government this week pledged $1 billion to help its Georgian ally recover and rebuild.
Russia, highly critical and publicly voicing suspicion of the U.S. using warships and military aircraft to deliver humanitarian aid, was notified in advance of the Mount Whitney’s arrival on Friday, said Barker, the EUCOM spokesman.
Early media accounts about the ship’s anticipated arrival erroneously reported that Russians would be able to inspect the cargo, Foughty said.
"We’re not allowing that. The cargo will be handled by various authorized organizations, USAID, NGOs (nongovernmental agencies), and we expect it to be unimpeded as it flows to its destination," he said.