Navy personnel from 11 countries — some of them formerly bitter enemies — were gathered for complex joint submarine exercises on Sunday in the South China Sea.
The need for the world’s navies to work together was illustrated by the deaths of 118 sailors killed in the recent sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, said U.S. Navy Capt. C.J. Leidig, deputy commander of the exercise.
“The Kursk incident has given nations around the world with submarine forces a reason to look harder at their rescue capabilities,” Leidig told reporters aboard Singapore’s RSS Perseverance, a ship taking part in the exercise.
Navies from the United States, Japan, South Korea and Singapore on Monday began Pacific Reach 2000, the first-ever multinational submarine rescue exercise in the Pacific. Seven other navies have sent official observers.
On Sunday, a Japanese underwater vehicle “rescued” three sailors from the Korean submarine ROKS Choi Moo Sun while the sub was sitting on the seabed 200 feet (60 meters) under the water.
A South Korean navy rescue vehicle was slated to conduct a similar mock rescue with the Japanese submarine JDS Akishio on Tuesday.
The Korean peninsula was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945. Animosity between the two has since gradually thawed, despite sporadic tensions over issues such as islands claimed by both sides.
“We actually had the Japanese and Korean navies exercising together,” Leidig said. “That was a historic first.”
The United States’ former Cold War rival Moscow sent a Russian naval officer to observe the exercise.
Mainland China — whose relations with the United States and several Asian countries have seen recent strains — also sent a military observer, getting a close look at the involved countries’ state-of-the-art submarine technology
Relations between all the partners and observers during the exercise have been “very cordial,” Leidig said.
“If something unfortunate happens, we know now that we can get help from all the navies that participated in this exercise,” said Capt. Kim Jung-du of the South Korean navy’s contingent.
Britain, Australia, Canada, Chile and Indonesia have also sent observers to Pacific Reach 2000, held about 200 miles (about 300 kilometers) northeast of Singapore.
The exercise involves 600 people, four ships, four submarines and three sophisticated underwater devices that can rescue personnel from submarines in distress.