CHONBURI, Thailand (Kyodo) -- The first naval exercise between the United States and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations began Monday in the Gulf of Thailand.
The five-day ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise involves at least eight ships and four aircraft, as well as more than 1,200 personnel from the United States and all 10 ASEAN countries.
At the opening ceremony at Sattahip naval base in Thailand's Chonburi Province, Vice Adm. Chareonpol Koomrasi, the Royal Thai Navy Fleet's chief of staff, said the exercise is aimed at enhancing the capability of ASEAN naval forces in dealing with maritime threats and natural disasters.
He cited drugs, illegal arms trade and human trafficking as examples of such threats.
Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the exercise will strengthen collaboration between ASEAN and the United States in ensuring the stability of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
The U.S.-ASEAN exercise will also be held in international waters in the disputed South China Sea. But with China claiming almost all of the waters by drawing so-called nine-dash line, the drill will be held outside the boundary so as not to escalate tensions with China.
The exercise involves the setup of a combined task force and simulation of different scenarios that include search, boarding and seizure.
The exercise will extend to the tip of Vietnam's southernmost province of Ca Mau. A Thai navy official said earlier that the waters near Ca Mau have seen a lot of piracy, and that the drill could, therefore, help ASEAN tackle the issue, too.
Among the U.S. Navy assets brought in for the exercise are a guided-missile destroyer, three helicopters and a Poseidon surveillance aircraft.
The drill will conclude in Singapore.