Manila is in talks with Beijing about the retrieval of the Philippine Navy flagship that ran aground on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
BRP Gregorio del Pilar became stranded at Hasa Hasa Shoal — Half Moon Shoal — about 60 nautical miles off Palawan on Wednesday (August 29).
According to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the hull and right propeller were slightly damaged, but all 117 crew members are unharmed.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said yesterday (Friday, August 31) that their coast guard vessels were already at the shoal, while a search and rescue ship is also on standby nearby.
“China has learned of the relevant situation. China Coast Guard vessels are already at the scene. Nanhaijiu 115, specialised in maritime search and rescue, is also in nearby waters. China is discussing with the Philippines on the relevant search and rescue matters,” he said.
‘Nanhaijiu 115’ is the search and rescue ship that China has permanently deployed in Zamora Reef (Subi Reef), one of its fortified islands in the Spratly chain of islands.
The Philippine frigate is one of three former US Coast Guard cutters acquired by the country’s navy in 2011.
“No, we can do it,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said when asked if the Philippines needed China’s help to retrieve the warship.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a press briefing today that he sees “no problems from China” amid fears that China could impede the Philippines’ retrieval efforts.
Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative director Gregory Poling has raised concern that China might try to exploit the situation by acting unilaterally to aid the Philippine ship.
“It closed Jackson Atoll in 2016 to remove a stranded foreign vessel. This would be another matter entirely, but not sure it’s out of the question,” he wrote on Twitter.
Two Philippine tugboats are on its way to the shoal to retrieve the warship, Armed Forces spokesman Colonel Noel Detoyato said.
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