US Navy assault ship docks in Sabah, part of regional stability effort

US Marines and sailors man the rails aboard the USS America (LHA-6) as they leave port and deploy to the Pacific with the America Amphibious Ready Group from Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California, on July 7, 2017.
US Marines and sailors man the rails aboard the USS America (LHA-6) as they leave port and deploy to the Pacific with the America Amphibious Ready Group from Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California, on July 7, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

KOTA KINABALU - The USS America LHA-6 made its first port of call to Malaysia on Monday (Aug 14), docking at the Sepanggar Naval Base in Sabah, reported national news agency Bernama.

Commanding Officer Captain Joseph R Olson, who leads a 2,500-member crew, said the visit was to learn about Malaysia and the Royal Malaysian Navy as part of operations to build ties in the Pacific for regional stability.

"Our visit is to learn more about each other and have mutual exchanges with the Malaysian navy on peace and security," he told reporters.

The 257-metre length amphibious assault ship, carries 28 aircraft on board and is capable of supporting aircraft such as the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.

According to Malaysian daily the New Straits Times, Amphibious Squadron Three Commodore Captain Rome Ruiz said American naval presence in the South China Sea is solely to ensure security and stability.

"Our job is to navigate the waters and to just safely navigate on this restricted area because it's just a freedom of navigation exercise. From (our) standpoint, we are doing what we always do and that is, we want to make sure that our partners know that we are here to contribute to regional stability," he reportedly said.

The ship had left Singapore on Aug 9 after docking at the Changi Naval Base for four days for resupply.

"Prior to Singapore, we were just on a transit across the ocean and did some training while on the way.

"Our primary visit here (in Sabah), is to maintain the existing partnership and to be with the Malaysian people, understand the culture and build relationships. At the same time, we want to contribute to the economy to the best as we can. We have a lot of sailors and marines joining the military to travel," said Captain Ruiz.

The USS America is expected to dock at Sepanggar until Friday.