MANILA - Japan has offered to send patrol ships to deal with a growing piracy threat in the southern Philippine waters bordering Indonesia and Malaysia, a senior Philippine defense official said on Tuesday.
A surge in piracy off parts of the southern Philippines is forcing ship-owners to divert vessels through other waters, pushing up costs and shipping times. Dozens of sailors have been taken captive by Abu Sayyaf.
Japanese vice minister Ro Manabe offered the assistance at a meeting in Tokyo on Friday and expressed readiness to contribute to efforts by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia "in addressing piracy and terrorism", said Raymund Quilop, assistant defense minister for assessments and international affairs.
A senior Japanese defense ministry official, however, gave a different account of the Tokyo meeting and said no offer of patrols was made to the Philippines, just "capacity building".
Leaders from the two countries agreed last fall that Japan would give the Philippines high-speed small boats for its counter-terrorism efforts, but it was not clear if that was part of the apparent offer made by Manabe.
Efforts by the Philippines to strengthen its security ties with Japan come as it seeks to diversify defense relations that are traditionally aligned with the United States, to include Russia and China also.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte last month asked Beijing to send its ships to thwart piracy by the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf. China has yet to issue a response to that request.
China has also been in discussions about defense-related loans for purchasing its arms. It will donate $14 million worth of unspecified military equipment, for which Manila has submitted a wish-list, and has made available $500 million in loans for planes and ships.
Russia has offered to sell the Philippines anything it wanted, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told Reuters last week.
The Philippines late last year made an agreement with Indonesia and Malaysia to chase down Islamist militants and pirates in the Sulu and Celebes Sea.
Abu Sayyaf is holding captive 27 foreigners and Filipinos on the southern island of Jolo. The foreigners include six Vietnamese, a Dutchman, a German and a Japanese national.
Ricardo David, deputy defense minister, told reporters that two of five TC-90 surveillance planes leased from Japan will be transferred to Manila next month to help patrol the South China Sea as well as waters in the south. (Editing by Martin Petty and Randy Fabi)