Watercraft

Bars, shops gain from carrier trade

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 12:00am

Bar and shop owners are set to see a sales fillip after more than 6,000 sailors from part of the US Navy's George Washington carrier battle group arrived in Hong Kong yesterday for what was likely to be a five-day visit.

Sailors from the aircraft carrier started streaming into Wan Chai and Central about lunchtime after the ship, together with two destroyers, USS McCampbell and USS Lassen, and the cruiser USS Cowpens anchored near Ma Wan in the morning.

Airman Raymond Tam, part of the carrier's flight deck fire fighting team, plans to meet his girlfriend's aunt as well as relax and do some shopping. Tam, who comes from Chicago and has been in the navy for less than a year, said he was keen to know more about the city's culture.

Seaman Morris Ng, who steers and helps navigate the 99,000-tonne ship, will meet family and friends in addition to carrying out a community project for the Po Leung Kuk during the carrier's visit. The 23-year old, whose parents live in Tin Shui Wai, said when he first started steering the ship, he felt: 'I'm the man! I'm the ship! But after a couple of months you get like every other GI Joe.'

Tam and Ng, both US-born, enlisted in the Navy for four years, which will entitle them to four years of free college education and other benefits. Captain David Lausman, the carrier's commanding officer, said the ship contained 'nationalities from all over the world'. Ng had several naval friends who joined with Chinese passports and a 'green' card.

It is the carrier's third call in Hong Kong since the ship replaced the USS Kittyhawk as the only aircraft carrier permanently deployed outside the United States at Yokosuka in Japan in 2008. The vessel has 70 aircraft, including fighters, helicopters and freighters, and more than 5,000 crew.

Hong Kong is the ship's first port call since leaving Busan in South Korea about a month ago. Lausman said the carrier conducted joint operations with ships and aircraft from the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force and the South Korean Navy.

He would not comment on tensions between China and the Philippines, but the ship saw warcraft of other countries including China and Japan as it patrolled in Asia. He said 'every interaction' was courteous and professional.

Lausman said that regional countries sent military forces to combat piracy. China, South Korea, Japan together with European, US and other countries have committed to tackle pirates and protect merchant ships in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and east African coast. 'Every navy, including ourselves, is working against piracy. Piracy is hurting all of us. It's a crime against all countries. Co-operation bodes very well for the future.'