Shipyard will not put military secrets at risk

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Vietnam will open repair facilities for foreign naval ships and submarines at a port formerly used by both the US and Russia without risking divulging any military secrets, the defense minister has said.

"The construction of a port services center at Cam Ranh Port would make sure profit without any concern about military secrets," Minister Phung Quang Thanh told reporters on the sidelines of the ongoing parliamentary session on Monday (November 1).

The deepwater port off the coast of the central region's Khanh Hoa Province has been evaluated as one of the best military ports in the world.

Located more than 300 kilometers to the north of Ho Chi Minh City, the port has access to key international shipping lanes, both military and commercial, in the East Sea.

Minister Thanh's statement came after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced last Saturday a plan to re-open the tactical port to foreign fleets.

Dung said Vietnam will be solely responsible for developing Cam Ranh Port and renting its services out to foreign navies.

Like many other countries, "Vietnam will sell its military port services to all navies, including submarines," Dung said at a press briefing following the 17th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Hanoi.

He said the facility would offer repair services to foreign naval ships and submarines and could be a fuel stop for aircraft carriers.

He also said the country will consider hiring Russian consultants for the construction of Cam Ranh Port.

Foreign media recently reported that Russia planned to return to Cam Ranh. But Nguyen Phuong Nga, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said Vietnam will not cooperate with any country that wants to use the port for military purposes.

Instead, Vietnam will manage and develop the port with the country's best interests in mind, local news website VietnamNet reported last Saturday citing a government statement.

Thanh said the facility is expected to be completed in three years to serve the Vietnamese Navy as well as that of other countries, not excluding ships of those countries having territorial disputes with Vietnam.

"Currently, we have opened ports to foreign military ships with whom we have diplomatic relations," he said, rejecting concerns that opening the facility would reveal Vietnamese military secrets.

Commenting on a plan to hire Russian consultants and buy Russian technology for the new shipyard facilities, Thanh said the move could be "easily understood."

Vietnam used to be supported by the former Soviet Union with weapons and these are still used, he said.

"We will buy more weapons, mostly from Russia. Politically, Russia is a reliable partner. Technologically, Russian weapons are modern and we have got used to using them. Russia remains one of the world's major weapons exporters. Moreover, they have cheaper prices than Western countries."

Thanh said information of the facility's scale and investment are not yet available. He reiterated that the port would make a certain profit and could compete with other such facilities in the region.

"The deepwater Cam Ranh Port is accessible to large ships. It is located in a bay sheltered from storms. Moreover, the port is not so far from international shipping lanes and is a well-known military port internationally."

Answering a question about countries offering to cooperate in exploiting the port, he said many countries have shown their interest and Russia had made an official proposal.

Cam Ranh Port was used by the US for military purposes during the

Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. After the war, Vietnam and the Soviet Union signed an agreement in 1979 that allowed the latter to use Cam Ranh as a base for 25 years. Russia withdrew in 2002.

Cam Ranh Bay is about 13 kilometers from the open sea with a width of up to ten kilometers and a depth of 18-30 meters. The estuary is three kilometers wide and 20 meters deep, capable of receiving ships of more than 100,000 DWT.

It is strategically located near key shipping lanes in the East Sea and is close to the potentially oil-rich Truong Sa (Spratlys) and Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelagoes. It is about one hour from the nearest international shipping lane, and thus has a key advantage over two other Vietnamese ports - Vung Tau, which is three hours from international shipping lanes and Hai Phong, at eight hours.

In another move to boost Cam Ranh's strengths, Prime Minister Dung has approved plans to develop the Cam Ranh Airport for domestic and regional flights by 2020, when it is expected to receive 5.5 million passengers and 100,000 tons of cargo a year, apart from military aircraft.

In December 2009, the 750-hectare Cam Ranh Airport was upgraded at the cost of more than VND200 billion ($10 million) into an international airport that can serve up to 800 passengers per hour.

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