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Philippines accepts first of 10 Japan-funded patrol vessels to beef up coast guard

Kyodo

The Philippines on Thursday formally received one of 10 Japanese patrol vessels provided by an official development assistance loan to improve Manila’s maritime capabilities amid its territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

The 44-meter multi-role response vessel, which will be named BRP Tubbataha and assigned to the Philippine Coast Guard, was built by Japan Marine United Corp. in Yokohama and funded by a 7.3 billion peso ($158 million) loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The Philippine government is contributing 1.4 billion pesos to the 10-vessel project, which is expected to be completed in 2018.

“In the past few years, we have all been witness to the growing and evolving challenges that the Philippine Coast Guard is facing, and the maritime community and the sea-traveling public also had to face. Who could forget the devastation and horror brought about by Super Typhoon Yolanda?” asked Rear Adm. William Melad, the coast guard chief, at the ceremony to welcome the BRP Tubbataha. Yolanda, known elsewhere as Typhoon Haiyan, claimed more than 6,300 lives in the Philippines in 2013.

“Who would not be angered by violations committed against our maritime laws that sometimes resulted in maritime accidents or even casualties? And who could afford to take the bullying of our fishermen within our maritime jurisdiction?

“These instances have reverberated the call for a modern and equipped Philippine Coast Guard that can speedily respond to cries for help and engage in rescue and rehabilitation efforts, one that has technical capability to match . . . against poachers, smugglers, human and drug traffickers, and one that can stand up for the country’s citizens against maritime bullies,” he said.

Coast guard spokesman Armando Balilo said that, once commissioned, the BRP Tubbataha is likely to be deployed on patrol missions in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea where the Philippines claims jurisdiction.

The Philippines has long complained about China’s aggressive assertion of territorial claims in the South China Sea and its driving away of Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal and its deployment of energy-surveying ships at resource-rich Reed Bank. The two features are within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

After seeking international arbitration in 2013, the Philippines last month successfully debunked China’s “nine-dash line” claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, and also received legal affirmation for its fishermen, as well as those from other nations, to fish around Scarborough Shoal. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague also criticized China for causing massive damage to the marine environment in the waters through its reclamation and construction activities on some of the disputed features.

While it does not officially take sides in the South China Sea disputes, Japan has criticized China’s behavior and urged respect for the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping territorial claims in the busy sea lane, which is also believed to contain substantial deposits of oil and natural gas.

In addition to the patrol vessels, Japan has agreed to lease up to five Maritime Self-Defense Force TC-90 training aircraft to the Philippines.