Monday, June 20, 2011

US, Asean states stage naval drill

By Gilbert P. Felongco, Monday, June 20, 2011

Manila: The US Navy is conducting a naval exercise with its forces from the five member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) amid rising tensions in the troubled South China Sea.

Dubbed the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (Seacat) 2011, the drills were launched last Tuesday in the Malacca Strait, Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea and will run until Friday.

Lieutenant Colonel Omar Tonsay of the Philippine Navy public affairs office said the naval forces of the five Southeat Asian allies and the US Navy will participate in a scenario-driven fleet training exercise against terrorism, transnational crimes and other maritime threats.

The drills will focus on real-time information exchange, coordinated surveillance operations, tracking, and eventual conduct of visit, board, search and seizure operation, he said.

Information exchange

The Malacca Strait, Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea are known to be areas of piracy and there have been increasing incidents in recent months.

Likewise security experts point to the same spots as likely targets of terrorist strikes due to the importance of these areas. The Strait of Malacca is a vital artery for world sea trade.

Philippine Navy Captain Sebastian Pan said that the activities in the exercise will involve "surface, air, and special operations units in the conduct of surveillance, tracking, and boarding of ... from the different participating navies within their respective maritime territories.

"Three ships from the naval forces of the Philippine Navy will participate in this year's exercise.

"As practised in the yearly Seacat, several ships from each participating Southeast Asian navy will join the training" with a US Navy ship designated as the Contact of Interest for the participating Southeast Asian navies."

Territorial claims

According to Tonsay, the naval exercise has nothing to do with the ongoing tension between China and several Southeast Asian countries over maritime territorial claims.

Manila was recently involved in a heated exchange of words with Beijing over Philippine moves to allow foreign companies to conduct oil and natural gas exploration in the Recto Bank, which is located some 85 nautical miles from the Philippines' Palawan.

Likewise, Vietnam is involved in a similar row with China over oil and natural gas exploratory operations.

China had declared that it has exclusive rights over mineral and marine resources in the South China Sea.

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