March 13, 2002 – For the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the mainland, the territory is welcoming Navy ships making rest and recreation stops — at St. Thomas and St. John Thursday and at St. Croix shortly.
The USS Nassau, a helicopter transport ship with a crew of 1,166, is tied up at the Coast Guard dock on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront.
The USS Doyle, a frigate carrying a crew of 100, is anchored off St. John.
The USS Austin, an amphibious transport dock ship, will bring 350 sailors and officers for a liberty call on St. Croix, shortly, but the date of arrival hasn't been announced.
Nor was it for the Nassau and the Doyle, either, and that's the way things will be for all visiting Navy ships for the time being, according to Petty Officer James Scott with the Navy's Atlantic Fleet public affairs office.
Taxi associations and taverns looking to pick up some extra business from sailors and officers coming ashore will just have to stay on their toes. Those accustomed to extending hospitality to visiting ships or greeting friends and relatives aboard will see some changes this time around. Confidentiality is key in wartime, Scott said, and for now, the public will hear about visits just a few hours before the ships come in.
The Navy has been participating in the 43rd annual UNITAS cruise. UNITAS is the largest multinational exercise conducted with naval forces from the United States and countries from South and Central America. The exercise "focuses on building multinational coalition while promoting hemispheric defense and mutual cooperation," according to a U.S. Navy web site.
The welcome mat will still be out for the popular guided tours aboard some vessels, Scott said, but the former open-door policy that allowed the curious tourist or pedestrian to saunter up the gangplank and have a look around is no longer in effect.
"On a case by case basis," ships will allow "sponsored tours," Scott said, "but that's arranged through civic groups, like the Boy Scouts." Organizations interested in touring a Navy ship must make arrangements in advance, he said.
Volunteers with the St. Thomas USO, which provides hospitality for enlisted personnel, and with the Navy League, which does the same for ship's officers, were busy Wednesday preparing to welcome Thursday's guests. "We'll be open every evening" while the Nassau is in port, "and we'll be providing live music for the visiting personnel," USO volunteer Cynthia Farmer said.
A Navy League source declined to discuss the group's plans, saying its members had been asked to keep the movement of the ships under wraps.


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