BY: LUIS MARTINEZ, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — This year’s version of the RIMPAC naval exercise off the coast of Hawaii ended with a bang this weekend as the old Navy cargo ship USS Durham was sunk by a missile barrage from various ships participating in the international exercise.
The exercise was scaled back significantly because of the coronavirus pandemic but U.S. Navy officials said it still provided valuable experience in working with other Pacific Rim countries.
Off the waters of Hawaii on Saturday, the USS Durham (LKA-114) served as the target for a Sinking Exercise (SINKEX) that would close out the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) that is held every two years.
Decommissioned in 1994 after almost 25 years of Navy service, the old Charleston class amphibious cargo ship had been cleaned and readied to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards before it was sunk to its permanent resting place in the Pacific Ocean.
On Saturday, the ship received a barrage of missiles and ordnance fired from ships from the U.S, Australia, Brunei and Canada. The Durham was struck by Harpoon missiles, Exocet missiles, Hellfire missiles and rounds fired by five-inch guns.
The ship finally sank shortly after midnight on Sunday, said Cmdr. John Fage, a spokesman for the Navy’s 3rd Fleet.
The RIMPAC exercise is usually considered to be the world’s largest international naval exercise stretching out over two months with more than 20 countries typically participating.
But because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the exercise was scaled back to the last two weeks of August.
This year only 10 countries decided to participate in the exercise sending 22 surface ships, one submarine, and about 5,300 personnel.
Some at-sea activities, like the searching of ships, were not allowed and all events ashore were canceled, but Navy officials said the exercise provides valuable experience with partners in the Pacific region.
“It’s really paramount that we maintain those partnerships and alliances so we are ready as a team to face whatever crisis may arise” Capt. Jay Steingold, the director of this year’s RIMPAC exercise, told reporters last week.
Despite the scaling back of the exercise, Steingold said not holding the exercise would have been “a greater disadvantage.”
“RIMPAC, no matter what it looks like, will help us increase our ability to operate together and build that trust,” said Stengold.
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