U.S. 7th Fleet flagship vessel visits Manila
|USS Blue Ridge, flagship of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, is seen in Hong Kong waters in this January 28, 2008 file photo. Reuters|
MANILA - The flagship vessel of the U.S. 7th Fleet, which is based in Yokosuka, Japan, arrived in Manila on Thursday for a four-day visit aimed at reinforcing the "enduring relationship of the Philippines and the United States."
Aboard the USS Blue Ridge were about 1,100 officers and sailors, led by Rear Adm. John Weigold, deputy commander of the 7th Fleet, and Capt. Will Pennington, commander of the ship.
"All port visits, and this one certainly included, are a symbol of the enduring relationship between the Philippines and the United States, one that dates back many, many years, and continues to this day. It's vital to the area, and it's in the interest of both nations that we maintain those strong ties," Pennington said in a press conference aboard the ship.
Without downplaying the Philippines' dispute with China over territories in the South China Sea, Pennington said the issue does not necessarily make this year's port call in Manila more significant than its once-in-a-year visits over the past 15 years.
"Nobody should be worried about our visit," he said.
While in the Philippine capital, the ship's personnel will engage in book-reading activities in local nursery schools and sports activities such as basketball and soccer against some local teams.
There will also be leadership and professional exchanges.
An increase in port calls by U.S. Navy ships in the Philippines is being expected by the Philippine authorities following the pronouncement of U.S. President Barack Obama in 2011 about a U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific.
The Philippines and United States forged a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951, and a Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998.