MANILA, Philippines – The United States of America and the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have begun its first-ever maritime drill in the waters of Thailand, the US Embassy in Manila said on Tuesday (Sept. 3).
The ASEAN-United States Maritime Exercises (AUMX), the ceremony of which was held at Sattahip Naval Base in Thailand on Sept. 2 and co-led by the US and Royal Thai navies, will consist of pre-sail activities in Thailand, Singapore and Brunei followed by a sea phase in international waters in Southeast Asia, including the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea.
The U.S. Embassy said the exercise will conclude in Singapore on Sept. 6.
The AUMX includes eight warships and four aircraft from seven countries, and more than 1,000 personnel from the U.S and ten ASEAN member-states, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The Philippine Navy has deployed its Del Pilar-class patrol ship, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS16) with around 200 sailors and marines for the maritime exercise.
While U.S. assets include the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8), the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), three MH-60 helicopters, a P-8 Poseidon aircraft and staff assigned to DESRON 7 and CTF 73.
“Our forces sail together during exercises throughout the year and have done so for decades,” said U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Phil Sawyer. “AUMX provides a new multilateral venue to work together on shared maritime security priorities in the region.”
Operating under the theme “Enhancing Shared Awareness and Interoperability in the Maritime Domain”, this maritime exercise aims to promote shared commitments to maritime partnerships, security and safety, freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.
Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, commander of Task Force 73, who oversees the U.S. Navy’s security cooperation in Southeast Asia, noted that AUMX continues the trend of increased multilateral cooperation among navies in the Indo-Pacific.
“The U.S. Navy along with our partners and allies have long known the value of working together,” said Tynch. “AUMX builds greater maritime security on the strength of ASEAN, the strength of our navy-to-navy bonds, and the strength our shared belief in a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Throughout the exercise, ASEAN member states and U.S. forces will operate together under a combined task force structure, executing a variety of realistic scenarios designed to reinforce interoperability in areas such as visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS), maritime domain awareness, division tactics and maritime asset tracking.
The task force headquarters will be located onboard the Royal Thai Navy vessel HTMS Krabi (OPV 551), and include representatives from each ASEAN member state and the United States. An ashore support element in Singapore will also host representatives from each ASEAN member state.
The US Embassy said commercial vessels have been contracted to serve as the simulated target vessels for the VBSS portion of the exercise, which will focus on countering maritime threats.
“AUMX provides an opportunity to work together at sea during realistic training scenarios,” said Capt. Matt Jerbi, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 and deputy commander of the AUMX Task Force. “Training in areas such as maritime domain awareness, where we share information and integrate operations, helps each of us to operate together more effectively.”
While this is the first exercise of its kind with ASEAN, the U.S. Navy has conducted engagements, exercises and port visits in Southeast Asia for decades. In 2019, the 25th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) bilateral exercise series commenced, along with the 18th Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) multilateral exercise.
The U.S. Navy also participates routinely in ADMM-Plus maritime security exercises, to promote peace and stability throughout the region.
For the Philippine Navy, its participation in this exercise is expected to advance its maritime operational capability to multilateral level, and increase readiness and interoperability.
Schools across Thailand re-opened on Wednesday (July 1) with coronavirus prevention measures in place, following months of closure.
Nearly 5,000 students returned to Sam Khok school, about 50 km north of Bangkok, wearing face masks and receiving face shields and temperature checks from the school.
“Once students arrive at school, teachers hand face masks to them because it’s mandatory to wear them. We (school) are also providing face shields for students’ project presentations or for eating,” said principal Chuchart Thiengtham.
He added that students were told to stay in home quarantine for 15 days before school re-started as an extra precaution.
The school has also turned old ballot boxes into classroom partitions to enforce social distancing between students.
“I feel safe, but annoyed at the same time because partition blocked my view,” said 17-year-old student, Soponwich Thianthong.
Thailand on Wednesday marked 37 days without a case of local transmission. The coronavirus has killed 58 people among its 3,173 infections.
The country has extended an emergency decree until the end of July in a bid to avoid the risk of a second wave of the coronavirus, although it is also set to ease more restrictions on Wednesday, including reopening bars and allowing some foreigners into the country. (Reuters)
No more touching in the elevators as a Thai shopping mall in Bangkok installed foot pedals for customers to step on instead of pressing the buttons, lowering the risk of having to be exposed to germs.
“Now everyone is worried about getting infected with the COVID-19 and the easiest way to get infected is that when you touch an object that has been contaminated with the COVID-19 virus, and then eventually touch your face and the virus will go into your mouth, your eyes or whatever. So, we came up with this idea of hand-free foot-operated elevator,” said Prote Sosothikul, the vice president of Seacon Development PLC which oversees the mall.
The foot-operated elevator pedal system is also welcomed by mall customers, saying they felt safer to use the lift without actually touching the buttons, reducing the risk of getting infected.
“I think they did a good job in preparing this. I feel much safer… Now that we can use our foot to press the elevator, it’s really great,” said 26-year-old Watcharaporn.
Thailand on Sunday (May 17) reopened malls and department stores for the first time since March in its second phase of relaxing measures as the number of new cases slowed.
Thailand has reported a total of 3,034 cases of the coronavirus and 56 deaths. (Reuters)
There were no Filipino nationals harmed during the shooting incident in Thailand, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
In a statement, the DFA said no one from the nine reported Filipinos was harmed when a shooting incident occurred in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, Thailand, from the evening of February 8 until the early morning of February 9.
“The Philippine Embassy in Bangkok dispatched First Secretary and Consul General Val Roque posthaste to Nakhon Ratchasima to check on nine Filipinos who were reported to have been trapped in the mall at the time of the incident and had been able to escape and confirmed to be well and safe,” the statement reads.
The Philippine government and the Filipino people, meanwhile, offer their condolences to the Thai people, and in particular to the victims and their loved ones.—AAC
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