MANILA, Philippines – In an apparent show of force meant to fulfill its vow to ensure freedom of navigation in the region, a US naval ship went through the disputed West Philippine Sea without a hitch en route to its humanitarian mission in the Philippines.
According to US Task Force Forager Commander James Meyer, the USNS Millinocket’s voyage from the Solomon Islands to La Union’s Poro Point went smoothly without hitches.
“We did not see any Chinese vessels,” the Philippine Star quoted him as saying. “Our voyage was uneventful. There’s no problem.”
Several US vessels aside from the Millinocket—including the fast-attack submarine USS Chicago and hospital ship USNS Mercy are in the country to conduct a US-sponsered 10-day Pacific Partnership 2015 (PP15) program. After La Union, their next stop is Vietnam.
One of the most modern and maneuverable transport ships in the world, the USNS Millinocket is a Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) which can quickly transport troops and equipment from one theater to another.
In fact, a worker at the port said he was awed at the speed and flexibility of the ship.
“It’s a very fast ship. First we just saw a dot but moments later it was docking without asking for assistance from tugboats,” he said.
China and the US are locked in a word war over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea which is also one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
The US does not recognize the artificial islands constructed by China to assert its sovereignty and has promised to conduct continuous naval and aerial patrols in the area.
On the other hand, China—which claims almost the entire Sea—accuses US of destabilizing the region and has called for it to stop interfering in a local dispute.
In May, Chinese and US forces encountered each other twice in the area—first, when a Chinese frigate shadowed a US littoral combat ship; and second, when the Chinese Navy challenged and ordered a US spy plane filled with journalists and flying near its artificial islands to leave.