Philippines extricates warship from Half Moon Shoal in South China Sea

The shoal is on the eastern edge of the disputed Spratly archipelago, where tensions have run high in recent years after China transformed seven disputed reefs into islands and reportedly installed missile defence systems

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 9:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 9:01am

The Philippine Navy extricated one of its largest warships which ran aground in a shoal near a hotly disputed region in the South China Sea.

Two Philippine security officials said on Tuesday that tugboats were used to pull the BRP Gregorio del Pilar from the shallow fringes of Half Moon Shoal, which the Philippines calls Hasa Hasa, before midnight.

The frigate, which was being towed back to a Philippine port, ran aground during a routine patrol Wednesday night, damaging some of its propellers. It’s more than 100 crewmen were unhurt.

The barren shoal is on the eastern edge of the disputed Spratly archipelago, where tensions have run high in recent years after China transformed seven disputed reefs into islands and reportedly installed missile defence systems.

Beijing sends coastguard vessels after Philippine warship runs aground in South China Sea

Philippine defence officials notified their Chinese counterparts after the accidental grounding of the Philippine Navy frigate at the shoal, which Beijing claims, to avoid any misunderstanding, said the two Philippine officials.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said last week that China offered to help but that the Philippines would handle it.

A Chinese frigate ran aground on the shoal in 2012 and was pulled away by Chinese military ships.

Half Moon Shoal lies about 110km (68 miles) from the southern tip of the western Philippine island of Palawan and south of the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, where a Philippine navy transport ship was intentionally grounded in 1999 and has since served as a Philippine military outpost.

China has repeatedly demanded the removal of the now rusty BRP Sierra Madre from Second Thomas Shoal, which is claimed by the Philippines and China.

A military report seen by Associated Press said the propellers of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar were damaged by the grounding. The crew checked the frigate after it ran aground and reported that it was not taking in water.

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At least four Philippine Navy and Coast Guard ships were deployed to secure the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and provide food and other supplies to its sailors. Tugboats were hired to extricate the ship, military spokesman Col Noel Detoyato said.

The frigate is one of three former US Coast Guard cutters, which were acquired by the Philippine military, and are the Philippines’ largest warships.

The United States and Asian governments which have claims in the disputed sea, including the Philippines, have raised alarms over China’s island building and militarisation of the strategic territory.

The Philippines has been one of the most vocal critics of China’s assertive moves in the disputed waters. In 2016, it largely won a complaint it lodged before an international tribunal, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, however, took steps to revive once-frosty ties with China after he took office in 2016 as he sought infrastructure funding and more trade and investment from Beijing.