Thursday, May 16, 2019

PH, US ships hold drills near China-controlled shoa

From Malaya Business Insight (May 16, 2019): PH, US ships hold drills near China-controlled shoal

PHILIPPINE and US coast guard ships on Tuesday held maritime exercises near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the first such drill to be conducted by the two sides since China gained control of the disputed area seven years ago.

Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Capt. Armand Balilo said two Chinese Coast Guard vessels were seen at the shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc, during the exercise.

Involved in the half-day maritime exercise were the USCG’s Legend class maritime security cutter Bertholf, and PCG’s search and rescue vessel BRP Batangas and patrol ship BRP Kalanggaman.

Balilo said the exercise kicked off the visit of the US Coast Guard ship which linked up with Philippine Coast Guard ships at the vicinity for the exercise. The US vessel then proceeded and arrived at Pier 15 in Manila yesterday morning for a port visit.

“The scenario of the exercise is immediate response by PCG and USCG personnel to a sinking vessel and save those on board. There was also a communication exercise among the crew of the three ships involved in the exercise,” said Balilo.

“Meanwhile, two large ships from the China Coast Guard were seen during the exercise yesterday,” he added.

Balilo said the two Chinese ships actually tailed the US ship from Singapore and went as near as two miles from the USCG and PCG ships during the exercise.

On why PCG and the USCG held the exercise near the Scarborough Shoal, Balilo said, “They (US Coast Guard ship and its crew) were on the way here in Manila and that is the nearest (place to hold the exercise).”

Balilo said the exercise is not meant to “agitate” China which has maintained presence at the shoal since 2012 when they took control of the disputed area following a standoff with Philippine ships.

“There is no particular reason why they (PCG and USCG personnel) did that there. It was held in international waters so I think there is no problem with that,” said Balilo.

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