PATONG: Christmas came early for hoteliers, merchants and barkeeps as nearly 2,000 U.S. Navy personnel aboard six vessels descended on this popular western beach for a liberty call. Sailors from the USS Antietam, USS Rainer, USS Oldendorf, USS Fitzgerald and USS McClusky hit Patong for some rest and relaxation from December 8-13, providing the resort with a quick infusion of spending just prior to the peak, year-end holiday period. The combined number of personnel aboard the five vessels was 1,780, according to the Chin Ounsathiporn Company, which provides ground logistical support for the Navy. They were joined by 120 sailors from the USS Columbus, which arrived for a liberty call from December 10-15. Visits by naval vessels contribute to Phuket’s economy year-round. An estimated $1.3 million baht was pumped into the local economy in June when six ships carrying approximately 3,800 U.S. naval personnel hit shore, representing the largest contingent of U.S. sailors in recent years. The next flotilla of U.S. navy ships is scheduled to arrive in Phuket in mid-January.
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