Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'Confusion' torpedoes US disaster aid

Bangkok Post

Thani says flooding was 'not deemed dangerous'

The USS George Washington aircraft carrier left Thailand without deploying an air lift service for Thai flood victims yesterday because the US assessed that flood situations in the country are not serious enough, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

The ministry's spokesman Thani Thongphakdi, who is also director-general of the Information Department, said yesterday that the United States considered that present flood situations were not dangerous so its aircraft carrier could not deploy helicopters.

He was responding to a report that the US Navy had withdrawn several ships sent to help with relief efforts in flood-hit Thailand after receiving ''mixed'' messages from the Bangkok government.

The USS George Washington aircraft carrier and other ships were deployed to the area on Oct 16 for potential disaster relief work as Thailand faced massive flooding from monsoon rains, navy spokesman Lt-Cdr John Perkins said.

But the US military never received a formal request from the Thai government and the three-ship aircraft carrier group along with a fourth ship, the USS Kidd, were released and left the area on Friday, said Lt Cdr Perkins, spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet based in Hawaii.

''We are ready to help but we haven't got a request,'' said a US defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

''There were two channels [in the Thai government]. One was saying 'Yes' and one was saying 'No'.''

Mr Thani said the US has the regulation that it will offer air lifts only when a disaster may harm lives, he said.

Mr Thani said Thailand keeps contacting the US for its readiness to help flood victims in Thailand.

Though not providing air lifts, the US donated money and objects and offered expertise to help flood victims in the country.

The Thai capital is bracing for advancing and seemingly unstoppable floodwaters after residents in areas deemed most at threat were urged to leave.

Other parts of the country have been plagued by three months of heavy monsoon rains that have killed more than 350 people in Thailand and damaged the homes and livelihoods of nine million people.

On Oct 15, a small 10-man team of US Marines travelled to Thailand to deliver thousands of sandbags and to assess how the American military could help with relief efforts.

The USS George Washington group had arrived at the port of Singapore on Oct 12 and four days later the carrier was steaming towards Thailand, ''to position itself in case their assistance was requested'', Lt-Cdr Perkins said.

A fourth ship, the USS Kidd, which was carrying out an exercise with Cambodian forces, was ordered to join the carrier group near Thailand, he said.

The USS George Washington is now en route to Japan for an annual joint exercise there.

For humanitarian work, the United States often deploys warships, including aircraft carriers, which can operate fleets of helicopters and ferry in emergency medical teams and supplies.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul yesterday played down the report that the US was unhappy with Bangkok's unclear stance.

He said that US authorities were inspecting the floods with Thai officials to assess the situation.

''After that the US will submit an official letter to the Thai government,'' he said.

Mr Surapong said the cabinet has assigned the ministry to inform foreign embassies and diplomatic residences at risk of flooding.
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