U.S. sends military ships to help in tsunami aftermath

The U.S. government is beefing up its humanitarian assistance in the wake of a tsunami that struck countries in the Indian Ocean region last weekend, including sending the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and five other ships in the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the region.

Navy Capt. William Anderson, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu, said the Lincoln strike group sailed Dec. 27 from Hong Kong south to the Indian Ocean. Navy officials will determine how the group can best be used to render assistance to countries hit by the tsunami.

Officials for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, said they had also diverted the six ships in Expeditionary Strike Group 5 to provide assistance to countries struggling to recover from the tsunami, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Expeditionary Strike Group 5 ships include USS Bonhomme Richard, a flat-deck helicopter carrier; USS Duluth, a landing platform dock; and USS Rushmore, a landing ship dock. The Abraham Lincoln and the Bonhomme Richard have a wide range of command and control systems, including wideband satellite systems, that can be used to provide communications in devastated areas.

Anderson said the Navy has increased from three to six the number of P-3 patrol planes performing reconnaissance operations in the Indian Ocean. Pacific Command officials said the Air Force has also committed eight C-130 cargo planes to carry relief supplies to the affected areas.

Seventh Fleet officials said the P-3 planes have extensive communications systems and the ability to remain at a disaster scene for long periods of time, which make them an important component of any search-and-rescue operation.

Officials in Australia's Department of Defence said four Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules planes have been dispatched to Indonesia and will assist the relief effort by providing logistical support to the Indonesian authorities.

Pacific Command officials also plan to send three assessment teams to the area to determine what kind of assistance the United States can render, Anderson said. The teams will also survey local airfields to determine whether they can support relief operations, he added.

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