QINGDAO, China - U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) arrived here Aug. 5 to promote maritime cooperation and reinforce a positive navy-to-navy relationship with the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA(N)) North Sea Fleet.
"We greatly appreciate the warm welcome our North Sea Fleet counterparts have given me, the Seventh Fleet staff and USS Blue Ridge," said Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. "This visit will be a positive and unique experience for our Sailors and I hope the beginning of more interaction in the future."
While in Qingdao, Blue Ridge crew and 7th Fleet staff, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12 and Marines from Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific (FASTPAC) will welcome Chinese guests and media aboard for guided tours, participate in friendly sporting events with members of the PLA(N), and conduct planning for a search and rescue (SAR) exercise.
"We're working to better understand each other's SAR capabilities," said Naval Air Crewman 1st Class Brett Pembleton, a member of HSC-12. "This will be a unique opportunity for our two countries to work cooperatively and expand our capabilities to save lives."
Qingdao is a major seaport, naval base and industrial center in Eastern China, and is the site of the Tsingtao Brewery. Along with having time to experience all Qingdao has to offer, Sailors have also been invited to tour a PLA(N) frigate and participate in friendly tug of war, basketball and soccer events with members of the North Sea Fleet.
"It's good for the crew to experience a little of the culture and for us to build relationships with our PLA(N) counterparts," said Blue Ridge Command Master Chief Mark Tomlinson. "The more cooperation we have between our two navies, the better Sailors we all become."
Established in 1943 in Australia, and based in Qingdao at the end of World War II, 7th Fleet has been promoting security and stability for more than 70 years. Seventh Fleet's area of operation spans from the International Date Line in the East to the India/Pakistan border in the West, and from the Kuril Islands in the North to the Antarctic in the South.
Blue Ridge has been forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan for 34 years. As the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Robert L. Thomas, Blue Ridge is vital in maintaining partnerships in the 7th Fleet area of operations.