Navies from the United States, Japan, South Korea and Singapore on Monday began the first combined submarine rescue exercise in the Pacific.
The 13-day Exercise Pacific Reach 2000, involves 600 people, four ships, four submarines and three sophisticated underwater craft that can rescue personnel from submarines in distress.
The joint exercise was planned well before the recent Russian submarine disaster that killed 118 people, but participants are hoping it will help prepare them for similar emergencies.
Russia, China, Britain, Australia, Canada, Chile and Indonesia were invited as observers.
“This is the first time we’ve really had the chance to work together in a regional submarine rescue exercise in the Pacific,” said Lt. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a U.S. Navy spokeswoman in Singapore.
Working together with the other navies will promote “greater understanding and also a commitment to stability” in the Asia-Pacific region, Hull-Ryde said.
Boatswain’s Mate Chief Hugh Scully, a U.S. Navy diver, said a U.S. rescue craft taking part in the exercise “can rescue up to six people down to a depth of 850 feet (260 meters).”
The exercise is being held in the South China Sea about 200 nautical miles (230 miles or 368 kilometers) off Singapore.
The U.S. Navy nuclear attack submarine USS Helena is taking part, along with submarines JDS Akishio of Japan, South Korea’s ROKS Choi Moo Sun and Singapore’s RSS Conqueror.
Japan, South Korea and Singapore are sending rescue support ships to the exercise, while the United States, Japan and South Korea are sending underwater rescue craft.
Underwater rescue devices can help out in an emergency “like an ejection seat on an aircraft or a lifeboat on a ship,” Hull-Ryde said.
Japan’s equivalent of a naval force is officially referred to as the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. Since Japan was defeated in World War II and formally renounced military aggression, its armed forces are constitutionally limited to a self-defense role.
Submarine emergencies grabbed world attention last month when Russia’s nuclear submarine Kursk sank after an explosion.
Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, were heavily criticized for slow and awkward handling of the incident.