23 Jul 2020

US vessel on "humanitarian mission" arrives in Palau

5:20 pm on 23 July 2020

A United States military vessel has docked in Palau, with the government describing the visit as a humanitarian mission designed to strengthen relationships and provide technical assistance and training in the region

The expeditionary fast transport ship USNS City of Bismarck

The expeditionary fast transport ship USNS City of Bismarck Photo: US Navy

A press statement from the Office of the President said the USNS City of Bismarck arrived in Palau carrying 122 US marines and sailors with the Koa Moana - a humanitarian mission.

The government said all the personnel tested negative for Covid-19 prior to their arrival in Palau.

The vessel reportedly left California for Palau on 6 June.

A day after their arrival in Koror, crew members were tested again for Covid-19 and cleared of the coronavirus.

"To ensure the health and safety of Palau's residents as well as the U.S. service members, measures were taken to reduce the risk of the importation and spread of Covid-19 in Palau," a government statement said.

" Prior to deploying, all Koa Moana military personnel went into quarantine, and all tested negative for Covid-19. Upon arrival, the Ministry of Health tested all military personnel, who will remain onboard until test results become available," it added.

Sixty nine of the service members will travel to Peleliu and set up camp at the airfield there while the rest will remain onboard the ship.

The government said the personnel's movement would be limited to the airfield where they were supposed to conduct repairs for a 14 day quarantine period.

After 14 days they will be tested again "before they are allowed to resume other activities that involve contact with Palau's residents."

The government added that all "local contractors who will provide services to the mission have been trained in infection control measures, and will have no close contact with the military personnel."

US Ambassador to Palau, John Hennessey-Niland, said the exercise was a humanitarian one.

"I want to stress that this exercise is humanitarian it's not martial there's no landing on the beaches, no tanks or armoured vehicles associated with this visit," he said.

"This visit actually is in response to the request for assistance from Palau."

Despite the reported rise of Covid-19 cases in US military bases, both the US and Palau assured that the mission would minimise risks.

"We are exceeding what is regarded as best practices. Again to try at an abundance of caution to ensure that we can do everything we possibly can to minimise and mitigate any possible risk," Hennessey-Niland said.

Peleliu is a notable and historic site in Palau.

It was the location of Battle Peleliu during the Second World War with many ruins still clearly visible.

The wreckage of a WWII tank in Peleliu

The wreckage of a WWII tank in Peleliu Photo: wikicommons