Nimitz docks off Chennai to ‘build new relations with India’
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United States' nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz anchored four nautical miles off Chennai port at about 6.45 am today amid protests by the Left parties and activists. But several of the carrier's 4,600-odd crewmembers immediately started community work in the city "as part of efforts to build new relations with India".
A queue of Nimitz's sailors waited on the 4.5-acre deck of the carrier, waiting for their turn as a vessel ferried about 200 at a time to Chennai on a 40-minute ride across the sea.
"This visit is purely a port call with no specific mission other than to help our crew have an experience of Chennai's culture," Rear Admiral John Terence Blake, Commander, Carrier Strike Group 11, told the reporters taken to the carrier. But Blake would say little on the queries about Nimitz's nuclear stockpile. "We do not disclose the presence or absence of nuclear warheads (on board Nimitz)," he said. "The US policy, however, is that we do not routinely deploy nuclear weapons on board Nimitz."
The Left parties here were not as happy as the commander, however. Protestors led by CPM's Tamil Nadu secretary N Varadarajan and CPI's state secretary D Pandian staged a rally outside the Chennai port, demanding Nimitz to leave India's waters.
US Ambassador to India, David C Mulford, who is in Chennai to interact with the officers and the crew of Nimitz, said: "India is a democracy and everyone is free to express their opinion. This is part of a long, developing process, a deepening of the relationship, with a rising number of joint exercises."
On Nimitz, two nuclear plants below the deck generate power, which is used for every operation on board. Captain Michael C Manazir told reporters that it can hold about 90 aircrafts.
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