Philippines, Vietnam eye 'war games' in disputed seas

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippines and Vietnam plan to hold joint naval exercises and patrols along common maritime borders in the West Philippine Sea where the two nations have staked claims to some of the Spratly islands.

The agreement was made during the visit of Philippine Navy officials led by Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Alexander Pama to Vietnam from March 11 to 14.

The territorial claims of the Philippines and Vietnam are up against those of regional giant China, which claims the entire Spratlys island chain.

Pama and his staff met with Admiral Nguyen Van Hien, chief of the Vietnam People's Navy, and General Do Ba Ty, Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army.

"This visit is expected to provide opportunities for the conduct of joint maritime exercises in the West Philippine Sea (northeast of Vietnam) and other common maritime domains following proper diplomatic channels under guidance from the Department of National Defence," the Philippine Navy said in a statement issued yesterday.

The two Navy chiefs agreed on standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide interaction between their respective navies in the vicinity of Southeast Cay and the Northeast Cay Island.

Memorandum of Understanding

The SOPs implement a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the two Navy chiefs last October.

The Philippines occupies Northeast Cay Island, which it refers to as Parola Island.

It lies 45 kilometres northwest of Pag-asa Island, the biggest of the Philippine-occupied islets in the Spratlys. It is three kilometres north of Vietnam-occupied Southwest Cay Island which the Philippines refers to as Pugad Island.

The Spratly chain of islands is contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, which have laid claim on parts of the islands, and by China which claims the entire Spratlys.

Pama and his Vietnamese counterpart also discussed the possible establishment of a communication hotline between the operations center of the Philippine Navy and the Vietnam People's Navy covering common areas of naval operations, especially for search and rescue.

"This includes the proposed conduct of joint maritime patrols in these common maritime domains," the Navy said.

The Vietnam navy chief thanked the Philippine Navy delegation for the recent rescue of 12 Vietnamese fishermen who were found in distress by the Philippine Navy, and another nine fishermen rescued by the Philippine Coast Guard.

Vietnam offered to host Navy-to-Navy talks in the last quarter of this year.

Naval officials from the Philippines and Vietnam also discussed sharing of shipbuilding expertise as Philippine Navy officials were given a tour of Naval Shipyard X46 of the Hai Long Shipbuilding Company.

Navy-to-Navy

The shipyard is "equipped with state of the art shipbuilding and repair yard facilities with the capability to build various kinds of warships and high speed vessels up to 500 tons displacement."

Pama proposed sending Philippine Navy personnel to train at X46. Pama was joined by Commodore Joseph Rustom Pena, commander of Naval Forces West stationed in Palawan, and Captain Danilo Rodelas, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff for plans (N5).

The naval officials also visited Thailand from March 14 to 17.

They called on the Thai Ministry of Defence, the Royal Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Armed Forces.

They held exploratory talks on wide avenues of cooperation with proposals of a possible joint exercise and ship visit by the Thai Navy to the Philippines.

The Philippine Navy officials also visited the Sattahip Naval Base, headquarters of the Royal Thai Navy.

Major General Rustico Guerrero, commandant of Philippine Marine Corps, joined the delegation during the Thai visit.

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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