Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar runs aground near shoal

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star
Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar runs aground near shoal
Contributed photo shows the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which ran aground last Wednesday in the vicinity of Hasa Hasa Shoal, a maritime feature in the West Philippine Sea some 60 nautical miles off Bataraza, Palawan.

MANILA, Philippines — The flagship of the Philippine Navy ran aground Wednesday night while on a patrol mission in the vicinity of Hasa Hasa (Half Moon) Shoal in the waters off Palawan in the West Philippine Sea.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a former US coast guard ship acquired by the Philippines in 2011, was on a regular patrol operation when its starboard or right side hit one of the submerged land features in the area, said Col. Noel Detoyato, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office.

The area is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone but is witness to frequent incursions by Chinese vessels. There were no reports of casualties in the mishap.

The impact did not seriously affect the vessel’s hull or engine, but some of the ship’s operating systems such as secondary side propellers suffered some damage, he said.

Detoyato said floating assets of the Western Command (Wescom), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and tugboats from Batangas have been mobilized for retrieval operations.

The ship is based in Palawan. It is not clear how long retrieval operations will take.

“In line with our interagency retrieval efforts, Multi-Role Response Vessel (MRRV) 4407 of the PCG arrived at Hasa Hasa Shoal at around 11 p.m.,” Detoyato said.

“An investigation is expected in such situations to find out the possible causes of the grounding and to come up with steps to ensure that similar incidents will be prevented,” Detoyato said.

The Navy has not named the captain of the ship, but a source said the official would be relieved, along with the other officers of the ship. The number of the ship’s crew was also not revealed. 

“They are relieved – and will be subjected to an investigation. That’s an SOP in the Navy,” the source said.

The Del Pilar was the first of three vessels of its class that the Philippine government acquired from the United States under the latter’s Excess Defense Article (EDA) program.

The two others are BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF 16) and BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF 17).

All three were decommissioned all-weather high endurance US Coast Guard cutters.

The Philippine Navy commissioned the Del Pilar in 2011 or a year before the country’s maritime row with China took a turn for the worse with the latter’s seizure of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales.

Hasa Hasa Shoal is only 60 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan. The shoal serves as rich fishing ground for Filipino fishermen.

In 2012, a Chinese frigate also got stuck at Hasa Hasa while enforcing Beijing’s nine-dash-line claim to almost 90 percent of the South China Sea.

Wescom has been conducting routine maritime patrols at Hasa Hasa Shoal, which authorities identified as a trading point for unscrupulous local fishermen who sell their catch, including endangered sea turtles, to Chinese fishermen.

Navy ships supplying Wescom’s remotest outpost, the Rizal Reef, regularly pass through Hasa Hasa.

Rizal Reef is a small outcrop near the country’s border with Malaysia.

In 1999, the Philippine Navy deliberately ran aground the ageing transport ship BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal to serve as an outpost for a handful of Filipino troops guarding the area.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said earlier the old World War II-era transport ship was placed at the shoal “to serve as a permanent Philippine government installation in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief (Panganiban) Reef in 1995.”

Chinese ship

Meanwhile, another Chinese research vessel yesterday docked at Sasa Wharf in Davao. 

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Capt. Armand Balilo said the ship arrived at around 10 am. 

“This is the second time that a Chinese instrumental research ship docked in Davao,” said Balilo. 

The ship, which is in Davao for refuelling and reprovisioning, has 282 crewmen who are set to go on tour around the city. 

It will be in Davao until Sept. 2.  – With Evelyn Macairan

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