Lorenzana: Navy set to assist further studies on Benham Rise

MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippine Navy is set to assist researchers in conducting further studies on Benham Rise, the underwater plateau in the Pacific Ocean that was awarded to the Philippines in 2012.

"Our next activity is to  have the area surveyed to clearly determine its limits, depths, and coral formations," Lorenzana told Rappler in a text message on Friday, March 24. 

The military set the survey of Benham Rise in the wake of China's apparent interest in the maritime territory believed to be rich in minerals and gas. A Chinese survey ship was spotted criss-crossing the area for as long as 3 months in 2016, prompting concerns from Lorenzana.

The Philippines has conducted initial studies on Benham Rise but researchers have yet to reach the deepest parts of the maritime territory located in the Pacific Ocean, where conditions can be harsh.

The navy last year acquired a research vessel from the US. BRP Gregorio Velasquez, formerly M/V Melville, was one of the vessels that former US president Barack Obama gave the Philippines during his state visit here in 2015.

It has conducted initial studies of the underwater plateau but researchers have not reached the deepest parts of the territory. 

This week, the navy also sent warship BRP Ramon Alcaraz to patrol Benham Rise. Lorenzana said the navy will now regularly patrol the underwater plateau.

In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf  awarded Benham Rise to the Philippines. It means only the Philippines has the rights to explore and develop resources there. 

China was initially combative, saying the Philippines cannot claim Benham Rise to be its own. But it later softened to clarify that it respects the Philippines' sovereign rights over Benham Rise. – Rappler.com