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Coast Guard ready to sail back to Panatag Shoal

MANILA, Philippines - The Coast Guard is all set to sail back to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
Coast Guard fleet commander Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena said all their vessels are on standby and ready to perform maritime duties in the shoal, 124 miles from Zambales.
“Any time we are prepared to go back,” he said. “We are just waiting for orders.”

Isorena spoke at the sidelines of the official launching of this year’s joint naval and maritime exercise between the Philippines and the United States in General Santos City in which the Coast Guard is participating.

The BRP Pampanga was the first Coast Guard vessel to be dispatched to Panatag Shoal.
Maritime tension between the Philippines and China started when two Chinese maritime surveillance ships blocked moves of the Philippine Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar from effecting the arrest of Chinese fishermen caught poaching in the shoal and illegally harvesting endangered marine species like giant clams, corals and sharks.

Coast Guard vessels have been alternately maintaining their presence in the shoal since May 10 until President Aquino ordered the pullout last month due to bad weather.

While in General Santos City, the Pampanga and crew are all geared up for the sea phase of CARAT 2012.

CARAT 2012 is a bilateral training exercise between the Philippine and US navies. It started in 1995 in line with the Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

This year’s joint naval and maritime training, aimed to further foster strong relationship and mutual cooperation of the units involved, is also introducing, for the first time, minesweeping and nighttime naval insertion operations in the Mindanao Sea.

In this year’s exercise, the US government invited the Philippine Coast Guard to actively participate in the sea phase, anti-terrorist and other related trainings.

No problem with Chinese ships

Armed Forces chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa does not see any problem with China’s sending of patrol ships to the West Philippine Sea.

“As long as they are within the freedom of navigation area, there is no problem with that,” he said. “Ships usually navigate that area. There is no problem.”

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Dellosa said it would be up to the national government to redeploy Philippine vessels to the hotly contested Panatag Shoal.

Dellosa said the Navy must not be involved in the dispute as the Coast Guard is already monitoring the situation.

“We will just wait for the instructions,” he said. “As of now, there is none. We don’t want to escalate the situation. It’s been the Coast Guard (that is monitoring the area). We have no Navy (ships) there so I do not have control.”

The Navy’s latest aerial surveillance showed 28 Chinese vessels and boats are in the area.
However, the latest report was issued on June 26 and no other updates have been released after that.

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Jaime Laude | The Philippine Star | July 4, 2012 | Article Link

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