Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Seventh Fleet's flagship USS Blue Ridge arrived in the South Korean port city of Busan on Friday. South Korean authorities say the ship is not in the country for joint exercises.
The 19,600-ton command ship of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet is based in Yokosuka, Japan. The ship is in South Korea to "promote exchange, cooperation and friendship" between the two navies, the South Korean navy said, according to Yonhap news agency.
The Blue Ridge was commissioned in 1970, and has been forward deployed to the Japanese area of operation for 38 years, "patrolling and fostering relationships within the Indo-Pacific region," according to the U.S. military.
The ship's journey to Korea comes after months of repair and maintenance.
The U.S. Seventh Fleet would be a first-responder force to any emergency on the Korean Peninsula. The military formation includes about 50 to 70 ships, 140 aircraft and 20,000 personnel. It includes Task Force 70, which includes the Carrier Strike Group Five, the carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
Blue Ridge crewmembers are meeting with South Koreans for exchange and volunteer service at a time when the two countries are preparing to hold military exercises.
U.S. troops scheduled to take part in March drills, including Key Resolve and another exercise, known as Foal Eagle, have arrived in South Korea, according to Yonhap.
North Korea has previously condemned the drills, and Foal Eagle may be renamed to avoid provoking the North.
Pyongyang continues to condemn the South's unilateral military training.
Propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri stated Friday South Korean inspections and training are a "military disturbance" that goes against the spirit of inter-Korea agreements.
The statement said North Korea disapproves of South Korea's head of the joint chiefs of staff Park Han-ki's inspection of military divisions.