Stranded warship pulled from South China Sea shoal


Going nowhere: ‘BRP Gregorio del Pilar’ after it ran aground during a routine patrol in the vicinity of Half Moon Shoal. — AP

MANILA: The Philippine Navy extricated one of its largest warships from the shoal where it ran aground last week near a hotly disputed region in the South China Sea.

Two Philippine security officials said yesterday 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 last Wednesday night, damaging some of its propellers. Its 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 built seven disputed reefs into man-made islands and reportedly installed missile defence systems.

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, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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 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.

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 acquired by the Philippine military. — AP

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