Philippine Navy flagship aground in disputed waters

Photo: Armed Forces of the Philippines
Photo: Armed Forces of the Philippines

The Philippine Navy (PN) suffered major embarrassment on August 29 when the service’s flagship, the frigate Gregorio del Pilar grounded on Half Moon Shoal (Hasa Hasa), on the eastern edge of the disputed Spratly Archipelago, in the South China Sea.

Reports so far indicate that the frigate’s starboard propeller and rudder are damaged, but that the hull has not been holed. There have been no reports of any casualties.

As of September 2 the Philippine Coast Guard’s new Japanese-built multi-role response vessels Sindagan and Cabra, the PN patrol craft Nestor Reinoso, two tugs and a diving team were in attendance, but the frigate remained aground.

Unsurprisingly, Manila has turned down an offer of assistance from the China Coast Guard.

The 3,300 tonne frigate is one of three former US Coast Guard Hamilton-class Weather High Endurance cutters acquired by the PN in recent years. Combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion enables a top speed of 29 knots, and the ships mount a gun armament of a 76mm general purpose gun, one 25mm, and two 20mm cannon, and six machine guns. There is a flight deck and hangar for an AW-109 helicopter

These ships have succeeded in raising the operational profile of the PN in the South China Sea.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.