Hong Kong police have ramped up security in the city’s nightlife areas after the U.S. aircraft carrier from which Osama bin Laden was buried at sea arrived Sunday for a port call.
The USS Carl Vinson and support ships anchored off the southern Chinese city for a four-day shore leave, sparking security concerns among Hong Kong residents fearful of an attack following the Al Qaeda leader’s death earlier this month.
Police stepped up patrols in neighborhoods including the Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai entertainment districts, which many of the 7,000 American sailors are expected to visit during their shore leave, Agence France-Presse reports.
Lan Kwai Fong is famous for its rowdy bars, while Wan Chai is legendary for prostitution. The 1960 film “The World of Suzie Wong” featured the infamous area.
The nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson is anchored off Lantau Island, the location of Hong Kong Disneyland. On Wednesday the aircraft carrier will depart for her home port of San Diego.
"We will take action if there is any suspicious person or objects. We will take extra care to avoid any risk of a terror attack," a Hong Kong police spokesman told AFP. The threat of a terrorist attack remained at "moderate" level, he said.
Journalists tried to get American sailors spotted in the city to talk about bin Laden’s sea burial, but most said U.S. military personnel they had been ordered not to comment.
One of the sailors, engineer Lawrence Mayer, told Hong Kong newspaper The Standard that he only found out about the sea burial from watching CNN news reports. "My jaw dropped,” he said. “It was a great shock.”
On Sunday, Rear Admiral Samuel Perez also declined to answer questions about bin Laden's burial, but said he was not worried about the safety of U.S. military personnel in Hong Kong.
"The port protection measures we take here in Hong Kong are the normal ones we take for all of our liberty ports," he told reporters, describing the stopover as a "normal port visit."
"The Hong Kong police and the entire city of Hong Kong has been very welcoming to us and have provided us very strong assurances that they will keep our sailors and our ships safe ... we feel very safe here in Hong Kong,” he said.
Perez said that the USS Carl Vinson regularly conducts sea burials, and that some sailors had been buried at sea during the ship’s latest deployment. “Sailors who request to be buried at sea, we do take them out," he said.
The U.S. has said that bin Laden was buried at sea from the aircraft carrier after having last rites read, shortly after he was shot dead in a raid on his house in Pakistan. The sea burial was to avoid his grave being turned into a shrine by his supporters.
But bin Laden’s family and some Muslim leaders have criticized the sea burial, saying it was against Islamic teachings.