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Navy's "Safe Haven" Port Calls Dialed Back at Guam

safe haven port call
Empty piers: the USS America ESG at Apra, Guam (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 10-02-2020 05:29:35

In an effort to balance the need for shore leave with requirements for COVID-19 prevention, the U.S. Navy trialed a limited "safe haven" port call system in Guam and Yokosuka earlier this year. During a safe haven call, when a Navy vessel pulled into port, the crew would be allowed a restricted liberty on the adjacent pier and a nearby beach, isolated from other personnel and from the local population. 

However, the carrier USS Ronald Reagan sustained a small coronavirus outbreak after making a safe haven call in Guam in August, and the service appears to be reevaluating its approach. The USS America Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) recently made a port call in Guam for logistics support and routine maintenance, but the strike group's sailors and marines remained on board their ships during the visit. This included the crews of the USS America, USS Germantown and USS New Orleans, along with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and affiliated staff. The Navy cited a need "to protect the Indo-Pacific overall strategy in keeping with current guidance to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19."

“Our Expeditionary Strike Group ships have been underway since July, and this port visit allowed these ships to receive logistics support and conduct routine maintenance that will help sustain our ships for continued operations in this vital region," said Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Seven. "This visit was important because it ensures the force remains at the highest level of readiness to support the U.S. 7th Fleet’s mission of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”

The service's emphasis on COVID-19 protection has led to multiple record-breaking voyages for some of its surface combatants. With calls at foreign ports canceled, many deployed Navy vessels have simply stayed at sea. The destroyer USS Stout hit the 208-day mark while under way in the 5th Fleet area of operations last month, rounding out a long stint providing maritime security presence near Bab el-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz. Stout's under-way set a new record, narrowly beating the 207-day record set by the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower earlier in the year. The "Ike" is now getting set for a "double-pump" fast-turnaround deployment in the first quarter of 2021, reducing her time in port for maintenance and R&R.