USS Chafee wraps up drills off S. Korea as Trump arrives on peninsula
By TYLER HLAVAC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 7, 2017
U.S., South Korean and Australian warships finished a two-day exercise off the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday aimed at intercepting and searching unauthorized merchant vessels.
The drills involving the USS Chafee, South Korea’s Sejong the Great and Australia’s HMAS Parramatta and HMAS Melbourne wrapped up the same day President Donald Trump arrived on the peninsula to start the second leg of his five-nation tour of Asia.
They also come on the heels of tough new sanctions imposed by the United Nations against North Korea, which has conducted a series of banned ballistic-missile and nuclear tests in recent months.
The ships practiced ship tracking, hailing and boarding procedures, said 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. j.g. Cassandra Thompson.
“This week’s exercise focused on improving relationships between the U.S., Korea and Australia and tactics crucial to imposing U.N. sanctions, or denying otherwise unauthorized merchant vessels access to specific ports or transit routes,” she said.
Thompson said such drills are conducted frequently and are not related to Pyongyang’s recent provocations.
Chafee, a Hawaii-based guided-missile destroyer, departed its homeport last June for a deployment to South America and the Western Pacific. In October, Beijing protested after the warship sailed within 16 nautical miles of the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, calling the mission “dangerous” and a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
China has constructed military facilities in the Paracel and Spratly island chains. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have viewed that militarization as a threat to stability in the region.
The Chafee and several other ships from the Navy’s 3rd Fleet have been operating in the Pacific to bolster the Japan-based 7th Fleet. A series of recent accidents and deadly collisions have put the 7th Fleet ships USS Antietam, USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain out of commission.
Meanwhile, unexpected engineering issues have extended the dry dock period for the 7th Fleet’s flagship, the USS Blue Ridge, while modernization upgrades have delayed the arrival of the USS Milius to Japan until next year.