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US-Philippines naval exercises start

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Hundreds of Filipino and American sailors will conduct minesweeping and night sea insertion operations in this year's joint Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), which will also put to test the effectiveness of the multi-million dollar US and Australian-funded Coast Watch South project in Mindanao Sea.

Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, chief the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), and Philippine Navy Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao commander Philip Cacayan said that mine counter measures and night insertion operations are new naval techniques that are being introduced into this year’s joint naval and coast guard drills, which is being held for the first time in the sea of Mindanao.

“This year’s naval exercise will involve mine counter-measures and the use of Navy special units in naval insertion operations during night time,” Cacayan said as the exercises opened Monday.

Segovia, after officially declaring the exercises open, said the joint naval and coast activities will also put to test the effectivity of the Coast Watch South, a sea and land-based and real-time monitoring system of all naval activities in the country’s southern backdoor.

The main objective of the Coast Watch South project is to get real-time movements of local and foreign terrorists within the country’s porous maritime border with Indonesia and Malaysia.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas, who graced the official opening of the nine-day naval event, said US sailors and Coast Guard personnel will be interacting with their Filipino counterparts on the high seas to further hone their interoperability skills.

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Thomas, meanwhile, avoided answering questions involving the current territorial standoff between the Philippines and China in Panatag Shoal, particularly on China's warning that it will resolutely oppose any provocative actions in its maritime territory.

China claims almost all of South China Sea.

The US ambassador said that the decades-old alliance of the Philippines and the US remains strong while reiterating the stand of his government that all territorial disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully.

Singapore-based Rear Admiral Thomas Carney Jr, logistic commander of the Western Pacific Command’s 7th Fleet and this year’s US CARAT commander, on the other hand, said that the naval exercises has nothing to do with any territorial disputes in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

“We’re long way from South China Sea. Nothing in this (joint) exercise would be provocative. We are here because the Philippines is a treaty ally,” assured Carney.

The Philippines and China is locked in a tense maritime territorial dispute in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), which started when two Chinese maritime vessels prevented the Philippine Navy from apprehending Chinese fishermen caught fishing illegally in the lagoon of Panatag Shoal last April.

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