McCain, Cable first Navy warships to port at Cam Ranh Bay since war
The destroyer USS John S. McCain and submarine tender USS Frank Cable this week became the first commissioned Navy ships since the Vietnam War to moor at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam’s strategically important South China Sea port.
The ships left Tuesday after technical and goodwill exchanges since Sunday at the port, Navy officials said.
The U.S. controlled more than 25,000 acres of airfield and port facilities around Cam Ranh Bay at the height of the Vietnam War. Following the war, the Soviet Union and later Russia leased the port for its ships and submarines.
Vietnam spent millions of dollars on upgrades at the port, now called Cam Ranh International Port, following an unveiling earlier this year.
The port lies about 200 miles from parts of the Paracel and Spratly island chains, which remain in dispute among multiple nations in the region.
In recent years, Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels have clashed with Vietnamese boats over rights to waters near the islands, resulting in multiple ramming incidents at sea.
Although the U.S. doesn’t take a position on any of the islands’ ultimate sovereignty, it maintains that the international waters surrounding them must remain open to navigation for all. China maintains an ambiguous claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, including waters the U.S. considers part of the global commons.
About $1.2 trillion in U.S. trade passes through the South China Sea annually, according to U.S. government statistics.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called access to the expansive deepwater port, which can accommodate aircraft carriers, a “key component” of U.S.-Vietnam relations, during a 2012 visit aboard the Military Sealift Command’s USNS Richard Byrd.
Subsequent visits by non-combatant, mainly civilian-crewed MSC ships led up to this week’s visit. Earlier in the week, the McCain held an exchange with Vietnamese forces at Da Nang, north of Cam Ranh Bay.
Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships, along with military ships from France and Singapore, have also used the Cam Ranh port since its reopening this year, according to media reports.
The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain pulls into Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, Oct. 2, 2016. The U.S. controlled more than 25,000 acres of airfield and port facilities around the bay at the height of the Vietnam War.
Allen McNair/U.S. Navy