US warships visit Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay for first time in 21 years

The USS John S. McCain at Tien Sa Port in Danang, visiting as part of the seventh annual Naval Engagement Activity between the US Navy and the Vietnam People's Navy.
The USS John S. McCain at Tien Sa Port in Danang, visiting as part of the seventh annual Naval Engagement Activity between the US Navy and the Vietnam People's Navy.PHOTO: AFP/US EMBASSY IN HANOI

HANOI (BLOOMBERG) - Two American warships stopped in Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay this week for the first time since the two nations normalised relations 21 years ago, the US Navy said on Tuesday (Oct 4).

Submarine tender USS Frank Cable and guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain made the visit on Oct 2 as part of naval engagement activities between the US and Vietnam, the navy said in a statement.

Other military sealift ships have visited in the past, it said.

The visit is part of recent US efforts to enhance naval ties with Vietnam as it seeks to counter China's assertiveness over disputed territory in nearby waters. Beijing has reclaimed thousands of hectares of land in the South China Sea and increased its military presence in recent years, raising concern from Vietnam and other claimants.

The US and Vietnam last week announced the start of their seventh annual naval engagement. The drills beginning in Danang will include maritime exercises focused on communications through the code for unplanned encounters at sea, and a search and rescue operation, according to a statement by the office of the US Commander Logistics Group Western Pacific.

Cam Ranh Bay, located about 354km north of Ho Chi Minh City, has been of strategic significance to the world's powers for more than 100 years. Built by the French in the 19th century and later occupied by Japan during World War II, Cam Ranh Bay was offered to the US by its ally South Vietnam in 1965.

The US upgraded the air and naval facilities for use in the war. It was handed back to South Vietnam in 1972 as part of the so-called Vietnamisation effort and captured by the communist forces in 1975.

In 2012, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta became the highest-ranking American official to visit Cam Ranh Bay since the Vietnam War.