Chinese Navy frigate runs aground off Palawan
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MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - A Chinese navy frigate has ran aground just off Palawan in the Philippines, China's defense ministry announced Friday.
The accident involving the frigate belonging to People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) occurred July 11 near the Philippines-controlled Half Moon Shoal in the Spratlys.
China and Vietnam are also claiming ownership of the shoal, which Manila calls as "Hasa Hasa."
The shoal is just 60 nautical miles west of Palawan and is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
China's Ministry of National Defense said in a statement in its website that there were no casualties in the incident.
It said it is "organizing forces to rescue" its stranded sailors.
The Sydney Morning Herald identified the stricken ship as No. 560, a Jianghu-class frigate.
The ship had reportedly threatened Filipino fishing boats in the area.
The Chinese embassy in Manila has also confirmed the incident.
Chinese embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua said the ship got stranded "during a routine patrol mission."
Philippine Navy Commodore Rustom Peña, who heads the Naval Forces West, said he received a report on the incident Friday morning.
He said Philippine ships are willing to help their Chinese counterparts, if Beijing asks for assistance.
"Our naval assets are on the way to the area. We will provide assistance if needed," he said.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Armed Forces Western Command, which has jurisdiction over the area, is investigating what the Chinese ship was doing so close to Philippine land.
"Its possible it was an accident or whatever. That's why we are trying to validate and if there is a need for us to offer assistance so they can get out of the area, we will help," he added.
A military source said the ill-fated ship is a guided missile frigate. It had been previously monitored moving in the waters in disputed islands, shoals, and atolls in the Spratlys.
"Its presence is consistent at the Mischief Reef and Subic Reef, which are Chinese occupied, and at the unoccupied Quirino Atoll. Apparently, the area is its AOR (area of responsibility)," the source said.
ASEAN talks fail to address Spratlys, Scarborough row
Tension in waters just west of the Philippines continues to brew following a standoff between Manila and Beijing over ownership of Scarborough Shoal just off Zambales province.
Several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) tried to raise the issue in a joint communique at their foreign ministers' meeting but China, through its ally Cambodia, prevented the standoff from being mentioned.
Foreign ministers from the 10-member bloc were wrangling since Monday to hammer out the diplomatic communique, which has held up progress on a separate code of conduct aimed at soothing tension in the West Philippine Sea.
The ASEAN summit ended Friday without issuing a joint statement for the first time in 45 years.
During the summit, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario denounced China's bullying of the Philippines.
"If Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction can be denigrated by a powerful country through pressure, intimidation, the threat of use of force and economic pressure, the international community should be concerned about the behavior of this member-state which has negative implications to the overall peace and stability--and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.
"The Philippines has consistently advocated, in both words and deeds, a peaceful and rules-based approach in resolving disputes, in accordance with international law, specifically the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is our firmly-held position that the rule of law is the great equalizer among States," the DFA added.
"If left unchecked, the increasing tensions that is being generated in the process could further escalate into physical hostilities which no one wants," it warned.
Del Rosario also said China's repeated intrusions in Philippine territory are part of Beijing's "creeping imposition of its claim over the entire West Philippine Sea."
Large Chinese fishing fleet heads to Spratlys
Meanwhile, Chinese state news agency Xinhua announced Friday that a fleet of 30 fishing vessels is now heading for the Spratlys.
The ships left Hainan Province on Thursday and will fish in waters near the Yongshu Reef, which the Philippines calls as Kagitingan.
"Among the fleet are a 3,000-tonne replenishment ship and 29 ships weighing in at more than 140 tonnes, making the fishing fleet one of the largest in the province's history," Xinhua said.
It said several Chinese government agencies are helping the fleet. - with reports from Raffy Santos and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
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