US Navy eases Indian Ocean vigil

With the hostages home, the Navy is breathing a little easier. After months in the Indian Ocean that have taxed crews and consumed expensive fuel, the Navy feels it can relax its flexed muscle enough to permit the aircraft carrier Independence, the cruiser Harry E. Yarnell, and the destroyer Charles F. Adams to make a five-day port call at Fremantle in Western Australia.

The temporary absence of the battle group leaves the US Navy with 19 warships and 15 support vessels in the Indian Ocean. By contrast, the Soviet Union has only eight warships and 18 auxiliaries there.

The aircraft carrier Ranger continues to ply the Arabian Sea accompanied by nine escorts. And somewhere to the south are three amphibious vessels with some 2,000 marines aboard.

Although a Navy spokesman says that the Indian Ocean is still "tense and volatile," he points out that the hostage release and the stalemated Iran-Iraq war have made the region less of a flash point. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said Feb. 3 that the US plans to keep two carrier battle groups in the Ind ian Ocean.

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