US delivers ship to Vietnam coast guard

By VnExpress, Reuters   May 27, 2017 | 08:32 am GMT+7

The ship will help the Vietnam Coast Guard carry out maritime law enforcement, and conduct search and rescue operations.

The U.S. Coast Guard transferred a high-endurance cutter to its Vietnamese counterpart in Honolulu, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said on Friday, in the latest effort to deepen ties.

The move follows an increase in exchanges between the two countries, ahead of a visit to the United States next week by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and a recent delivery of six patrol boats to the Vietnamese coast guard.

The ship will help the Vietnam Coast Guard carry out maritime law enforcement, and conduct search and rescue and other humanitarian response operations, the embassy said in a statement.

"This cutter provides a concrete and significant symbol of the U.S-Vietnam comprehensive partnership," said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Michael J. Haycock, its chief acquisition officer.

The transfer is part of the U.S. Excess Defense Articles program that offers excess military equipment to U.S. partners and allies in support of modernization efforts, the embassy said.

Vietnam is the country most openly at odds with China over the busy waterway in the South China Sea, known in Vietnam as the East Sea. 

The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte took a softer line with Beijing and is cultivating its ties among major powers.

China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea, through which about $5 trillion of trade passes each year.

The coast guard exchanges between the United States and Vietnam follow the first visit by a Chinese coast guard vessel to the Southeast Asian nation last November and a visit by a Vietnamese coast guard vessel to China early in May, its first ever foreign visit.

On Wednesday, the USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, one of a chain of man-made islands China has built and fortified to assert what it calls its sovereignty in the South China Sea.

The reef has been occupied and controlled by China since 1995 but is also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines. The U.N. says nations can establish the breadth of their territorial sea up to a limit of 12 nautical miles.

The media has interpreted the move as the first American challenge to China’s claims to the flashpoint waterways under the Trump administration.