Saturday, July 14, 2012

Philippine navy ready to assist grounded Chinese frigate

MANILA, Philippines—Philippine naval forces began readying vessels to assist the Chinese warship that ran aground on a reef in disputed waters of the Philippine Sea (South China Sea) off Palawan, officials said Saturday.

Even though China has not made any requests for help, “our assets are prepared in case there is a distress call. We will try to provide assistance. That will be our task there,” said Commodore Rustom Peña, commander of the military’s Naval Forces West.

The Department of National Defense, on the other hand, declined to comment on whether the presence of the Chinese frigate within what the Philippines considers its territory could be considered an intrusion.

“We cannot comment on that as we are still investigating and gathering details,” defense department spokesperson Peter Paul Galvez said. “As of this time, we are still awaiting reports. I believe bad weather is hampering our monitoring,” he added.

A military official who did not want to be identified by name because of the sensitivity of the matter said “some consider it innocent passage,” possibly belying reports that the Chinese warship had been patrolling Philippine-claimed waters.

But the Chinese Embassy in Manila said Friday the Chinese Navy vessel was doing “routine patrol mission” when it ran aground on Half Moon Shoal, which the Philippines calls “Hasa-Hasa Shoal.”

Peña said the Navy still had no visual confirmation of the grounded frigate, and that it had sent assets to the area for that purpose.

The Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald, which broke the story, said the grounded People’s Liberation Army’s naval ship No. 560 was a Jianghu-class frigate “that has in the past been involved in aggressively discouraging Filipino fishing boats from the area.”

The shoal, according to military sources, is located about 111 kilometers (60 nautical miles) from the municipality of Rizal on the main island of Palawan province, within the country’s 370-km (200-nautical-mile) exclusive economic zone.

China, however, considers it part of its territory in the Nansha Islands, its name for the Spratly group of islands, which it claims wholly.

The Spratlys, a reputedly oil-rich chain of tiny islands and reefs, is located near Palawan and claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The Philippines, supported by its strongest defense ally, the United States, has sought a multilateral solution to end the territorial disputes, but China wants to deal with individual countries separately.

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