PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—A Philippine Air Force plane spotted Saturday afternoon the Chinese war frigate that ran aground on a coral reef at Half Moon Shoal in the Spratlys.
A report made by the pilot of the PAF Islander plane, the distressed ship was being rescued by around five Chinese vessels, according to a source at the AFP Western Command.
A Philippine Navy vessel was closing in on the area and ready to provide assistance but was staying at a safe distance while awaiting orders from the AFP, added the source.
Regional military spokesman Colonel Neil Anthony Estrella confirmed the presence of the stranded Chinese naval frigate in the disputed waters.
“During the aerial reconnaissance mission, they were able to confirm, based on photographs, that there is indeed a ship with bow number 560 aground at Half Moon Shoal,” he told Agence France-Presse.
He said five more vessels and a number of smaller boats were assisting the grounded ship.
A navy ship and a coast guard vessel had been dispatched to the area to monitor the Chinese operations, he added.
He stressed that the shoal was just 60 nautical miles from the western Philippine island of Palawan, well within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as recognized by international law.
Estrella said they were awaiting further orders from Malacañang “but already in a position to extend assistance to the Chinese frigate.”
Foreign Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a statement, “we need to find out what really happened with the Chinese frigate in our territory”.
He reiterated that the Philippines would provide assistance to move the ship if China requested it.
The Chinese government earlier confirmed that the ship was on “routine patrol” when it became stranded near Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands on Wednesday evening.
The stranding highlights the territorial conflicts between the two countries which marred the ASEAN Regional Forum in Cambodia this week.
At the forum, the Philippines’ foreign minister denounced Chinese “duplicity” and “intimidation” in the South China Sea and conflicting positions on the issue prevented the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from issuing its customary joint statement.
The Philippines and China have been in a standoff since Chinese ships blocked the Philippine navy from arresting Chinese fishermen at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea in April.
The Philippines says the shoal is also within its EEZ but China claims the entire South China Sea as its historical territory, even up to the coasts of other Southeast Asian countries. The sea is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.
In Manila, a group of Filipino-Americans on Saturday called for a boycott of Chinese products and a day of prayer to rally support against China’s actions.