AFP denies presence of Chinese ships in vicinity of Hasa-Hasa Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 1) — China is not assisting with the retrieval of a Filipino warship that is currently stranded in disputed waters, a ranking military official said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Noel Detoyato, in a text message to CNN Philippines Saturday said that there are no Chinese ships assisting in the retrieval of BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which ran aground in the shallow waters at the Hasa-hasa or Half Moon Shoal some 100 kilometers off Palawan island.

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Earlier, Detoyato said that should there be Chinese ships, they would be able to pass near Hasa-hasa shoal because it’s within international waters.

“International waters na yan sya. Freedom of navigation dyan sa slog,” Detoyato told reporters.

[Translation: Those are international waters. There’s freedom of navigation.]

He added that according to Navy Spokesperson Commander Jonathan Zata, the Navy has yet to receive formal word about an offer from China to help remove BRP Gregorio del Pilar from Hasa-hasa shoal.

Detoyato referred further questions on Chinese assistance to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Ongoing retrieval

A joint task force Goyong was created to retrieve the ship, led by Commodore Rommel Galang, who was flown in by helicopter to the shoal. The task force is made up of members from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy.

“He will manage, supervise and direct the retrieval operations. He was formerly assigned with the Naval Sea Systems Command,” Detoyato said about Galang. 

The coast guard will assess the condition of the ship, and how to best retrieve it from the shallow water.

“So, while waiting for the tugboats and other PCG and Navy platforms to arrive, surface and underwater assessments are being done to come up with the right plan of retrieval,” Detoyato said.