NOY EXECS CHORUS ‘AN ACCIDENT CAUSED BY HUMAN ERROR’
A Chinese Navy frigate stranded clearly within Philippine territory for the past few days upped and went yesterday with nary a whimper from the government as the Aquino administration even assured China that it would not lodge a diplomatic protest and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario describing the incident as a likely “accident.”
China extricated the frigate from the disputed Half Moon Shoal where it had been stranded for four days.
Last week’s stranding of the ship, which the country calls Hasa Hasa, was likely an accident, Del Rosario said.
“We don’t believe that there were ill-intentions that accompanied the presence of that ship in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” Del Rosario said. “As far as filing a diplomatic protest is concerned, my stance is that we will probably not do that,” he said.
The ship was reportedly on “routine patrol” when it was stranded Wednesday on the shoal, which sits just 60 nautical miles from Palawan and within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
International law defines a country’s EEZ as being up to 200-nautical-miles from its shores.
The Chinese embassy in Manila said the frigate was “refloated successfully” before daybreak and del Rosario said he was informed it was already en route back to China.
“We wish its crew a safe voyage back to China,” he said.
Also, in a marked turn-around of rhetoric, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Chinese frigate apparently made a navigational mistake that caused it to run aground.
He said there appeared to be no signs that it was on a mission to intrude in a Philippine claimed area, noting the absence of structures on the shoal.
“It may have been human error. The CO (commanding officer) may have not seen the rocks,” he said.
Despite the clear case of incursion, the military echoed Gazmin saying there was no sign the Chinese ships are staying in the area.
Military’s Naval Forces West (Navforwest) chief Commodore Rustom Pena, who has jurisdiction over Hasa Hasa Shoal which is just 60 to 80 nautical miles off Balabac in Palawan, believed that the running aground of the Chinese warship was a “human error.”
Pena said he believed that the China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) naval ship with bow number 560 could just be passing through the area which is also known as a route for international ships.
“I think it is not (an intrusion). It is just passing, not really intrusion,” said Pena.
“The area is within (our EEZ). Occasionally, these ships are spotted in this area, our ships cans see them passing…there are also international ships passing there. So, practically, there are a lot (of ships) passing through this area,” added Pena.
The shoal is part of the the Spratly Islands, which the Chinese call Nansha, a string of atolls and islands straddling vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea believed sitting atop vast mineral deposits.
Apart from the Philippines and China, the Spratlys are claimed in whole or in part by Taiwan and the other Southeast Asian countries of Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Overlapping claims to the islands have perennially caused tensions among the claimants, with the Philippines and Vietnam recently accusing China of increasingly becoming aggressive in staking its claims.
The dispute also marred an annual meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Cambodia last week, where Del Rosario accused China of “duplicity” and intimidation.
The dispute divided the grouping, with host Cambodia siding with China, thus preventing them from issuing a customary joint statement that summarizes achievements and concerns.
“The grounded frigate near Nansha’s Half Moon Shoal was refloated successfully, with minor damage in the stem part,” the Chinese embassy said in a statement posted on its Web site.
“Now the preparation for return to the port is underway. No contamination has been caused in the incident area,” it said.
The ship was on “routine patrol” when it was stranded Wednesday evening, according to the Chinese government.
According to Pena, other Chinese ships were monitored in the area, supposedly to salvage the grounded frigate. However, he refused to reveal the number of Chinese vessels now in Hasa Hasa Shoal.
“I cannot divulge any details but there are (other ships) helping (to salvage the frigate). I just cannot disclose other details,” said Pena.
There were reports saying that six other Chinese ships have flanked the grounded frigate, supposedly to salvage it from the shoal.
The Navforwest chief said they also offered assistance to the Chinese but “they did not ask for help.”
He said the Navforwest has deployed assets to monitor the situation. “We have assets there that are monitoring,” said Pena without elaborating.
Pena also noted there were no indications that the Chinese were staying in Hasa Hasa Shoal, which is part of the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIGs) or the Spratlys in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
“There is none,” replied Pena when asked if there are signs that the Chinese are occupying the shoal, adding “because there are no structures there…my assessment is that they will just pull out the grounded ship.”
Pena also theorized that the incident could be a case of “human error.”
“Maybe there was problem with their navigation…maybe human error, the CO (commanding officer) committed mistake,” said Pena.
“The Chinese vessels sighted earlier with the grounded ship are no longer in the Hasa Hasa or Half Moon Shoal,” said DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez quoting reports from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
Galvez, however, stressed that the DND will continue its investigation to establish what really transpired in Hasa Hasa Shoal.
Asked what would be investigated, Galvez replied “the circumstances…so that at least we would know why it (Chinese) ran aground there.”
Lawmakers, dismayed at the refusal of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to issue a joint communique against China on the issue of the Scarborough Shoal, yesterday urged the Aquino government to forge ties with Vietnam in opposing China’s continued intrusions.
The lawmakers said the government should now abandon the idea of convincing the Asean to issue a joint statement on the Code of Conduct of parties regarding the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
In separate interviews, Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino and Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello said President Aquino should just focus on dialogues with other nations whose common objective was to secure a peaceful resolution in the conflict at the West Philippine Sea.
“I don’t expect the Asean to issue a joint communique soon considering the divergent interests of the members on the issue and China’s clout and influence in the region. If Asean as a group cannot reach consensus, I propose that only those who have reached an agreement on how to conduct affairs in the disputed areas should issue such communique and negotiate with China,” Batocabe, a member of the House committee on foreign affairs, pointed out.
Asean failed to issue a joint communiqué following the annual high-level foreign ministerial meetings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia after the host country opposed any mention of the Bajo de Masinloc or the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal territorial disputes involving China.
Antonino, vice chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, said the Philippines should now forget about any help from Asean.
“I would not count on Asean, we cannot depend on other nations but we should protect our rights,” Antonino, president of the 34-member National Unity Party (NUP), said.
For his part, Bello, also a member of the House committee in foreign affairs, urged the government to forge ties with Vietnam in opposing China’s aggression.
“Asean is not reliable at this point. We need to build up strong alliance with Vietnam. We’re on the frontlines, and we have the same interest,” Bello, the chairman of the House committee on overseas workers affairs, said.
Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna expressed optimism that the country would find a solution to the China problem. He said that Asean may, in due time, issue such communique.
“We have to give the Asean more time to have this joint statement,” said Tugna. Gerry Baldo and AFP
NOY EXECS CHORUS ‘AN ACCIDENT CAUSED BY HUMAN ERROR’
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