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YELLOW SEA - U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) teamed up with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA(N)) for a joint search-and-rescue exercise (SAREX) off the coast of China, Aug. 8.
The exercise was kicked off using communication standards from CUES (Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea), allowing both ships to practice using standardized flashing lights and flag signals for potential maritime encounters.
Blue Ridge and North Sea Fleet guided-missile frigate CNS Yancheng (FFG 546) demonstrated their SAR capabilities by utilizing helicopters and small rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) to locate and rescue a man-overboard dummy.
The rescue operation was initiated by an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat (HSC) Squadron 12 dropping the floating dummy into the sea. Both ships coordinated the rescue together, with Yancheng deploying a RHIB and Blue Ridge deploying her other MH-60S Seahawk in a coordinated search and rescue for the simulated person.
“The SAREX was a big success for both countries,” said Helicopter Sea Combat (HSC) Squadron 12 Air Boss Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Adams. “Any time we can work together on a professional level and improve our relationship with the Chinese navy it is beneficial to both sides.”
Within minutes, the second Seahawk was on scene hovering over the dummy. HSC-12’s rescue swimmer leapt into the water and quickly set the dummy into a wire basket to be lifted into the helicopter.
The groundwork for the SAREX was laid two days prior with a meeting between officers from Blue Ridge and Yancheng.
“The two sides came together with two similar plans in mind,” said Lt. Michael Feay, an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter pilot from HSC-12. “It was all about the ships working together and overall it was a great success.”
Communication was key to quickly locating and recovering the man-over-board. The exercise demonstrated how 7th Fleet is taking a positive approach in establishing a strong working relationship with its Asia-Pacific counterparts.
“This was a very positive step forward toward future exercise with the Chinese navy in this area of operation and potentially other areas as well,” said Adams.
Blue Ridge, which visited Qingdao, China, Aug. 5-8 to promote maritime cooperation and reinforce a positive navy-to-navy relationship with the PLA(N), is on patrol with the embarked 7th Fleet staff, HSC-12 and Marines from Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
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.