Chinese vessel 'on standby' during retrieval of grounded PH Navy ship

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 6) — The Chinese government said its coastguard vessel was "on standby" as Philippine authorities retrieved the warship that ran aground in the West Philippine Sea.

"According to the information provided by the Chinese coastguard vessel which is on standby at the scene, the Philippine side retrieved the aground vessel and returned it to safe harbor on the early morning of September 4," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

She said the vessel has maintained "good interactions with the Philippine ships," and that the Philippine government "expressed their thanks for China's goodwill."

The Department of Foreign Affairs did not issue an official statement on the grounding of BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Philippine Navy's flagship that was stranded last August 29 near Hasa-Hasa or Half Moon Shoal some 60 nautical miles from Palawan. The territory is being claimed by both the Philippines and China, which calls it Banyue Jiao.

READ: Authorities retrieve grounded PH Navy ship

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier denied reports China would assist with the retrieval operations.

Hua, however, revealed that the two countries discussed China's assistance in the search and rescue efforts, but did not elaborate on what was agreed upon.

"After the vessel was stranded, the Philippine side immediately notified the Chinese side of the accident and the arrangement for search and rescue efforts," she said.

Malacañang on August 31 said the public should not speculate on what China would do, adding that efforts to pull the Navy frigate out were being done "with no problems from China."

Greg Poling, director of U.S.-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, earlier warned that China could bar Philippine ships from the area if it starts to get involved in efforts to retrieve the frigate.

China surveyed site of grounding incident

The Chinese government said it maintains "close communication" with the Philippines as it continues to monitor the grounding incident.

"According to our primary survey at the scene, we have not found oil slick or other consequences which may damage the environment caused by the grounding," Hua said.

The Hasa-Hasa Shoal lies within the West Philippine Sea - the smaller area of the South China Sea off the Philippines' western seaboard and within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).  The shoal is on the edge of the disputed Spratly archipelago, where China has raised tensions by transforming disputed reefs into islands.

The Philippines largely won a case against China before an international arbitral tribunal, whose ruling in 2012 invalidated Beijing's sweeping territorial claims in South China Sea. China has refused to acknowledge the landmark ruling and continues to claim the South China Sea in its entirety.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said the country cannot afford to go to war against China, but he promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with the East Asian giant during his term.