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Photos: USS Gabrielle Giffords on patrol in South China Sea

More by Dylan Smith

The U.S. Navy combat ship named for the former congresswoman from Tucson has been deployed in the Western Pacific, sailing off the coast of Malaysia as a show of force in a region seeing increased Chinese pressure.

The Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords patrolled near a oil drilling ship this week, after two other Navy warships sailed through the area last week — including the USNS Cesar Chavez.

The U.S. vessels, along with an Australian naval frigate, have stepped up the military presence in an area of the South China Sea off Borneo that is claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam and China. An oil-drilling research ship contracted by Malaysia's government oil company has been shadowed by Chinese military vessels in recent weeks.

The Giffords (LCS-10), USS Montgomery (LCS-8) and USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE-14) maneuvered through the area this week. In April, USS America (LHA-6), USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) and USS Barry (DDG-52) sailed with Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta in the same stretch of sea.

“There is no better signal of our support for a free and open Indo-Pacific than positive and persistent U.S. naval engagement in this region,” Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, said in a news release.

“Routine presence operations, like Gabrielle Giffords, reaffirms the U.S. will continue to fly and sail freely, in accordance with international law and maritime norms, regardless of excessive claims or current events,” Vice Adm. Bill Merz, the commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, said.

The Giffords is now deployed as part of Destroyer Squadron 7, stationed in Singapore.

The ex-congresswoman Giffords, who was shot in the head in a 2011 assassination attempt in which six people were killed and 13 wounded, resigned from Congress in 2012. The Navy announced that year that it would name a littoral combat ship after her. The USS Gabrielle Giffords was christened in 2015 and commissioned in 2017.

Her husband, former Navy pilot and astronaut Mark Kelly, is a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Martha McSally. The Republican, who was appointed to a vacant Senate seat after losing a 2018 race to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, was a two-term representative in Giffords' former district.

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