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U.S. warship docks in Chennai

By Our Special Correspondent



The USS Fletcher at the Chennai Harbour on Thursday. - Photo: V.Ganesan

CHENNAI, APRIL 29. A United States warship, which is to be decommissioned once it is back in San Diego, berthed in Chennai today, for rest and recreation of its crew. This is the first time that a foreign warship docks in the city purely for this purpose.

The 400 sailors on board, including six women, have spent the last five months in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Explaining what rest and recreation meant, John P. Nolan, the ship's commander, said that the ship worked with the local U.S. Consulate or Embassy to firm up the activities of a ship's crew at a port of call.

The crew was excited about coming to India, he added. "One of the slogans in America is: join the navy and see the world," he said.

The purpose of rest and recreation was to renew the spirit, said Command Master Chief, George K.Dwyer.

"Some sailors like to indulge in community relations projects (while on a rest and recreation stopover)... Some sailors like to take tours of the area. A number of sailors enjoy learning about each other's cultures. Some sailors, you might be shocked to find, would want to just go out, drink some beer and stay out late," he added. Most of the enlisted crew members on board come from high schools and are in the average age group of 18.

"We are not here for an exercise. We are here on a port visit," said Commander Nolan in response to a question. His officers would play golf with the Indian Navy's Naval Officer-in-Charge, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, T.Hari, on Saturday; USS Fletcher will host a reception on board for Indian Naval personnel, members of the U.S. consulate and local officials; many sailors would explore the city and some others had volunteered to construct book shelves, painting and playing with the children at the Don Bosco Anbu Illam shelter at Royapuram.

The USS Fletcher did not fly the Indian flag on it, a norm adhered to by all ships calling on a foreign port.

The authorities explained that there was only one Indian flag on board and this was kept at the venue of the press conference.

The ship had asked for another flag from the local Indian Naval authorities. This had not arrived.

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