MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario announced on Sunday, July 15, that the Philippines will not lodge a diplomatic protest against China after a Chinese warship was stranded and later rescued by Chinese vessels on Half Moon Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
The incident at the disputed area was "likely an accident," noted Del Rosario.
"We don't believe that there were ill intentions that accompanied the presence of that ship in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone)," he noted.
Del Rosario added: "As far as filing a diplomatic protest is concerned, my stance is that we will probably not do that."
The government will conduct its own investigation into the events that led to a Chinese warship being stranded.
"From what I understand, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will pursue its own investigation on why the vessel ran aground in that particular area,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Sunday, July 15.
Valte told government-run radio DZRB that Malacañang is glad that the retrieval operation of the warship was successful and there were no reported casualties.
She added that the Chinese frigate was rescued without any help from the Philippines.
“While we were ready to render assistance wala tayo na-receive na request (we did not receive any such request). It was done entirely on their side from the information we got,” she explained.
Within the EEZ
The frigate was reportedly on "routine patrol" when it got stranded on Wednesday, July 11 on Half Moon Shoal, which lies just 60 nautical miles off the coast Palawan, within the EEZ.
International law defines a country's exclusive economic zone as being up to 200-nautical-miles from its shores.
The warship was rescued on Sunday after the Philippine military had spotted a number of Chinese boats in the area. (Read: Chinese ship rescued in Half Moon Shoal)
"Around 5am of July 15, the grounded frigate near Nansha’s Half Moon Shoal was refloated successfully, with minor damage in the stem part," said a statement posted on the website of the Chinese embassy in Manila.
The statement added: "All the personnel aboard are safe. Now the preparation for return to the port is underway. No contamination has been caused in the incident area."
Vessels spotted, help offered
On Saturday, the Philippine Air Force spotted at least 5 Chinese maritime vessels conducting rescue operations in Half Moon Shoal and a number of smaller boats in the area locally known as Hasa-Hasa Shoal. (Read: PH, China deploy ships to Half Moon Shoal)
A military source told Rappler that the Western Command was monitoring the rescue operations and a Navy patrol ship was waiting nearby.
Western Command spokesman Lt Col Neil Estrella earlier said that the ship was ready to assist the Chinese warship in Half Moon Shoal, which is within Philippine territory. (Read: PH ready to assist Chinese warship)
The same day, the government announced that the Philippines was "duty-bound" to assist the Chinese frigate, but China said it would do it without help. (Read: China says to rescue warship stuck in reef)
Unknown Chinese naval presence in PH waters
Estrella noted on Sunday that the Western Command did not track the movements of the Chinese vessels which rescued te frigate.
"We don't know yet where they came from exactly but the area is too far from their known naval bases to allow them to quickly assemble such a rescue party which included even a slow moving tugboat," he said.
Estrella added: "It is tempting to speculate that they are massed up somewhere around the Philippine territory, especially since they were even able to bring in a slow moving tugboat in Hasa Hasa in a matter of several hours."- Rappler.com, with reports from AFP