Two decommissioned Kidd-class US destroyers purchased by the government have departed for Taiwan and will arrive in December, a television station reported yesterday.
A 600-member Taiwanese crew set sail on Saturday with the warships, which were christened Keelung and Suao, from Port Charleston, South Carolina, CTI Cable Station reported.
A launch ceremony was held at the port on Saturday, and some US representatives and South Carolina's Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer attended the elaborate event. This type of event has been rare since Taiwan ended its formal diplomatic relations with the US in 1979.
"The destroyers will boost significantly our air defense and anti-submarine capabilities," Admiral Chen Pang-chih (
Chen made a special trip from Taipei to participate in the launch ceremony.
US Marine General John Allen, the US Department of Defense's principal director for Asia-Pacific Affairs, delivered a speech for the occasion. He said that although US President George W. Bush opposes Taiwan's independence and any unilateral moves by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo, the US is committed to make available defensive arms and defensive services to Taiwan to help it meet its self-defense needs.
The US agreed to sell the government four older Kidd-class destroyers in 2003.
The refurbished destroyers will fill gaps in the navy's fleet air defense and Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities.
The government purchased four of the 8,000-tonne guided-missile ships in 2001 for US$800 million. They were decommissioned by the US navy in 1998, and are expected to remain in service for another 20 years.
The destroyers will bolster the navy's ability to respond to any Chinese attempt to blockade the island or land an invasion force.
The vessels are equipped with Harpoon missiles, five-inch guns as well as anti-air warfare systems.
Under the provisions of its Taiwan Relations Act, the US pledged to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons systems. That law was passed shortly after Washington transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
Given their large displacement, upon their arrival in Taiwan the two decommissioned Kidd-class US destroyers will be docked temporarily at the Suao harbor's deep-water berth.
The two ships will later be relocated to the Tsoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung City after construction of a new deep water wharf at the base is completed.