Frigate visit first to US in 25 years

19:46, Jun 21 2010
SHIP VISIT: The frigate Te Kaha has become the first New Zealand navy ship to tie up at a mainland United States port in 25 years.
SHIP VISIT: The frigate Te Kaha has become the first New Zealand navy ship to tie up at a mainland United States port in 25 years.

The frigate Te Kaha has sailed into Seattle harbour to become the first New Zealand navy ship to tie up at a mainland United States port since 1985.

A quarter of a century since the Anzus bust-up over New Zealand's ban on nuclear armed or powered warships, Te Kaha and the navy tanker Endeavour sailed into the port without fanfare on Sunday, apparently to avoid drawing attention to the significance of the latest event in the slow thaw in US and New Zealand defence relations.

The Defence Force declined a request to send a photo of the ships arriving in port or to speak to Te Kaha's captain, Commander Matt Williams.

The ships are not being accorded full military-diplomatic courtesies – they have had to tie up at civilian docks rather than being invited into the US navy base at Seattle.

But a brief exercise en route was another small step towards restoration of long-severed ties, with Te Kaha taking part in naval manoeuvres with a US destroyer and two Japanese frigates off Japan.

Te Kaha would remain in Seattle before sailing into San Francisco next weekend. A week later, it would spend several days in San Diego before sailing home via Honolulu.

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A Defence Force spokesman said the frigate would be used in each port as a floating diplomatic and trade mission, with public open days and VIP invitations to help push New Zealand trade, tourism and immigration.

The port calls come towards the end of a four-month Pacific tour by the navy. It started with exercises in the South China Sea before visits to Shanghai, South Korea and Vancouver, where the Kiwis took part in Canadian navy centenary celebrations.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said in April that, although this was the first ship visit to the continental US for 25 years, it was "not a sudden breakthrough".

"It is part of the progressive improvement in the relationship between the two countries."

Robert Ayson, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies, said the visit was significant. "It represents a continuation of the warming of the security side of the relationship."

But the US Navy was not planning any reciprocal visits to New Zealand, a US embassy spokesman said.

Compliance with New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation would require the US Navy to breach its policy of neither confirming nor denying whether ships were carrying nuclear weapons.

The Dominion Post