Frigate aground off Spratlys

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2012, 12:00am


A Chinese frigate has run aground while patrolling near a shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea, the Ministry of National Defence confirmed yesterday.

The ministry said in a brief statement that the navy frigate had 'accidentally run aground during its routine patrol mission' around Half Moon Shoal - known as Banyue Shoal in Chinese - on Wednesday night.

'There is no report of casualties or injury, and the navy is making rescue efforts,' the statement said. It did not provide further details, but Philippine defence officials said the frigate bore the number 560 - suggesting it is the Jianghu class frigate Dongguan of the People's Liberation Army's South Sea Fleet.

'We have dispatched our own assets from the Western Command to investigate,' Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told the Philippine Star.

Its report, quoting sources in Manila, said the accident occurred several days ago and there was no sign yet that the Chinese warship was being salvaged.

Philippine Brigadier General Elmer Amon said the shoal was located within Philippine territorial waters.

'We have to hear from them [China] what happened. If it is in distress, we're always ready to provide any assistance,' he told Associated Press.

The accident occurred as territorial disputes in the South China Sea heated up an Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Cambodia. China has also stepped up its display of sovereignty over the waters, deploying more patrol ships and sending 29 large fishing boats to a location near the Spratlys on Thursday. A previous report by the PLA Daily said the Dongguan had been carrying out missions in Spratlys waters since 2009 at least.

Some analysts said the accident reflected defects in China's navy that could affect its ability to exert sovereignty in the South China Sea.

'It affects people's confidence in the capability of the navy,' said Shanghai-based military analyst Ni Lexiong . 'The accident indicates that the technology of Chinese navy vessels and the ocean combat capability of the navy may not be sophisticated enough.'

Antony Wong Dong, president of the Macau-based International Military Association, said the accident may have occurred because Chinese navy officers were not fully familiar with conditions in the South China Sea.

'Even though the accident may not significantly affect the South China Sea situation, Vietnam and the Philippines might still feel more at ease,' he said.

Beijing has locked horns with Hanoi and Manila over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea in recent months and recently established the city of Sansha to oversee the Spratly and Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank, an undersea atoll.

In another move designed to reinforce its sovereignty claims, China announced a high-profile fishing operation on Thursday involving 30 boats on a 20-day mission to Fiery Cross Reef, known as Yongshu Reef in Chinese.

The fleet consists of a 3,000-tonne supply vessel and 29 fishing boats, all of more than 140 tonnes and each with a crew of about 16.

In another development, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China opposed a plan by the Philippines to offer oil exploration contracts in the disputed waters, saying the plan, which lacked Beijing's permission, was illegal.