MANILA – Navies from the Philippines, the United States, India and Japan have sailed together for the first time for a maritime activity in the disputed South China Sea.
The Philippine Navy said Thursday that six ships from four nations participated in the week-long transit at the vital sea lane from May 2 to 8 after joining the first phase of the ASEAN-Plus Defense Ministers’ Meeting Maritime Security Field Training Exercise 2019 in Busan, South Korea.
From there, the Philippine Navy patrol vessel, BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS17), transited international waters to Changi, Singapore with USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), Indian Navy destroyer INS Kolkata (D 63) and tanker INS Shakti (A 57), Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) helicopter-carrier JS Izumo (DDH 183) and destroyer JS Murasame (DD 101).
The Philippine Navy noted that the ships sailed through international waters in the South China Sea, citing freedom of navigation. The vital sea lane is being claimed in near entirety by China.
The Navy added that the Philippines is committed to fulfilling its diplomatic role while engaging other navies to better operate in a multilateral environment.
“The group sail showed the active participation of the Philippine Navy as it strengthens its relationships with allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region. This gives us another opportunity to learn from like-minded navies,” Navy Capt. Roy Vincent Trinidad, who led the Philippine delegation, said in a statement.
BRP Andres Bonifacio commanding officer Navy Capt. Jerry Garrido Jr. added: “Our bond of friendship with our regional partners is a strong as our commitment to maintain peace and stability and region.”
A separate report from the US 7th Fleet said the ships conducted formation exercises, communication drills, passenger transfers, and leadership exchange.
“Professional engagements with our allies, partners and friends in the region are opportunities to build upon our existing strong relationships, as well as learn from each other,” said Commander Andrew Klug, commanding officer of USS William P. Lawrence.
The Indian Navy, meanwhile, said in a statement that the voyage was aimed at enhancing maritime cooperation, synergizing maritime engagements, sharing best practices and standardizing operating procedures.
JMSDF Escort Flotilla 1 commander Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa said: “The opportunity of a multi-sail with US Navy and regional partners was a great experience. In addition to building mutual understanding and trust, it also served as a way to enhance peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The Philippines has claims to the South China Sea and recently complained of Chinese incursions into its exclusive economic zone in the waters. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial claims.
China has ignored a ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal that invalidated its nine-dash line claim over nearly all of South China Sea as it ramped up militarization and island-building activities in the waters.
Japan, meanwhile, has an unresolved territorial dispute with China over Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu, in the East China Sea.