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US Aircraft Carrier Kitty Hawk Makes Last Port Call

The Kitty Hawk is making its first visit to Hong Kong since Beijing refused to let the U.S. aircraft carrier drop anchor in the city last year. As Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong, it is the last port call here for America's oldest active warship before it will be decommissioned.

Thousands of casually dressed sailors left the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk on Monday, ready for a few days of rest and recreation in Hong Kong.

The last time the warship tried to enter the city, in November, the crew had to stay on board. Unexpectedly, Beijing refused to allow the Kitty Hawk to stop in Hong Kong, disappointing hundreds of relatives who had flown there to celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday with crew members. The move caused a diplomatic spat between the United States and China.

Rear Admiral Richard Wren said on board the Kitty Hawk on Monday that Beijing never gave a satisfactory explanation for the incident. But he says things are back on track now.

"It's normal. I would say we are status quo," Admiral Wren said. "And I would think other than that one little hiccup with Kitty Hawk - if you look at the history of the past few years and then if you watch what happens in the next year - you know it's still in planning - I think you kind of go - well, it's just a little blip!"

Other U.S. war ships have already visited Hong Kong this year, including the carrier the Nimitz and the command ship Blue Ridge. On average, 40 U.S. navy vessels make port call in Hong Kong each year, and the sailors spend millions of dollars in stores, hotels, restaurants and bars.

The Kitty Hawk is on its normal spring cruise schedule. But Wren says the U.S. navy also is there to closely watch what is going on in the Taiwan Strait - in the crucial time before the inauguration of Taiwan's newly elected President Ma Ying-jeou on May 20.

Hong Kong is expected to be the last port call in Asia for the 47-year-old Kitty Hawk, America's oldest active warship. At the end of May, the United States' last conventionally powered aircraft carrier will be replaced by the George Washington, a nuclear-powered carrier. Like the Kitty Hawk, its home base will be Yokosuka in Japan, the home of the United States' Seventh Fleet.

Wren says it is the first time that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will be deployed in Japan.

"We are determined to continue to support stability in this region so by bringing forward the most significant asset, the best asset that we can bring today and that's USS George Washington," he said.

The decision to base the George Washington in Japan raised some opposition among the Japanese public. The country, which is the only nation to have experienced a nuclear attack, when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on it to end World War II, has a policy of opposing the use of nuclear weapons.

The Kitty Hawk will be brought back to the United States later this year where it will be deactivated.