Wednesday, June 15, 2011

US leads Asean war games in Sulu, Palawan

By Donna Pazzibugan
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A US-led naval exercise in the Sulu Sea involving the Philippines and five other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) began on Tuesday.

In the next 10 days, combined naval units from the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States will be in the Sulu Sea, Malacca Strait and Celebes Sea.

The naval exercise will be followed by another naval training exercise between the Philippines and the United States in the Sulu Sea. The Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) exercise from June 28 to July 8 will be held in the waters east of Palawan.

Dubbed the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (Seacat), the annual maritime exercise initiated by the United States covers training against terrorism, transnational crimes “and other maritime threats.”

A Philippine Navy spokesperson said the naval exercises had been arranged before fresh tension broke out between the Philippines and China over the disputed Spratly islands.

Asset reinforcement

The exercise coincided with a visit by Philippine Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama at the Naval Forces West in Palawan, his first since assuming office in January. It came as the military was reinforcing its naval and air assets in the West Philippine Sea.

The Navy spokesperson, Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay, said Pama toured Naval Station Apolinario Jalandoon, headquarters of the Naval Forces West, as well as the Oyster Bay detachment at Naval Station Carlito Cunanan in Ulugan Point, Macarascas, Puerto Princesa City.

Pama also paid a courtesy call on the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command commander, Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, who is based in Puerto Princesa.

The BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, acquired from the US Coast Guard and due to arrive in August, will be stationed at Naval Station Carlito Cunanan, 260 kilometers (140 nautical miles) from Recto Bank (Reed Bank) facing the West Philippine Sea.

Capt. Sebastian Pan, Philippine exercise director, said three Philippine Navy ships would participate in this year’s Seacat exercise. The USS Safeguard, a rescue and salvage ship, was designated as “contact of interest,” or COI.

Special operations

“This activity will involve surface, air, and special operations units in the conduct of surveillance, tracking, and boarding of the COI from the different participating navies within their respective maritime territories,” Pan said.

He said maritime interdiction operations with boarding opportunity would be conducted in the Sulu and Mindanao Seas.

The Coast Watch stations of the participating naval forces will be utilized to exercise their capabilities in surveillance, tracking, communications and operations.

The annual Seacat exercise is conducted to protect vital sea lanes in Southeast Asia from terrorists, poachers and transnational lawless elements.

The exercise aims to promote “regional coordination, information sharing and interoperability in a multilateral environment.”

Venues are determined in advance in planning sessions with participating navies.

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