PH Navy denies presence of Chinese vessels
MANILA (UPDATED) - China has sent coast guard vessels to help with retrieval efforts after a Philippine Navy warship ran aground on the Hasa-Hasa Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported Friday night.
The BRP Gregorio del Pilar ran aground on Wednesday on the shoal on Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
The Philippine Navy frigate was patrolling the area going to Ulugan Bay in Palawan when the incident happened.
The SCMP report said Chinese coast guard vessels were already at the shoal, while another search and rescue ship was also on standby in nearby waters, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Friday.
“We are discussing with the Philippine side how we can provide assistance,” Hua said.
The two sides have unresolved disputes in the waters, with Beijing ignoring an international tribunal's ruling invalidating its expansive nine-dash line claim over almost all of the South China Sea.
It has also stepped up island-building and militarization efforts in the waters, while the Philippines has taken "diplomatic actions" on the incursions.
China's Nan Hai Jiu 115, or "South China Sea Rescue," was dispatched to the Spratly Islands in July, and has since been permanently stationed at Subi Reef.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), however, denied there are Chinese vessels in the area.
AFP public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said only ships of the Philippine Coast Guard were involved in retrieval operations.
Detoyato added they are removing some of the items inside BRP Gregorio del Pilar to lighten its load.
The AFP has also formed a team to investigate the incident.
Detoyato said the team is expected to be aboard the ship Saturday.
Detoyato added that BRP Gregorio del Pilar is recoverable, with minimal damage to the hull.
The Philippine Coast Guard's BRP Sindangan arrived at the site of the grounding 11 a.m. Friday and will be joined by the BRP Cabra to render assistance.
The BRP Nestor Reinoso is also on hand to provide help.
-- with a report from Henry Atuelan, ABS-CBN News