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PHL, US coast guards conduct drill near Scarborough

A visiting US Coast Guard ship joined Filipino coast guard in a half-day maritime exercise near the contested Scarborough Shoal.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Capt. Armand Balilo said their search and rescue vessel BRP Batangas and patrol ship BRP Kalanggaman joined USCG's Legend class maritime security cutter Bertholf for the drill.

"The scenario of the exercise is immediate response by PCG and USCG personnel to a sinking vessel and save those on board," Balilo said. "There was also a communication exercise among the crew of the three ships involved in the exercise."

The exercise — the first of its kind since China gained control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012 — kicked off the visit of Bertholf.

Balilo said the PCG and the USCG held the exercise near the controversial shoal because of proximity.

"They (US Coast Guard ship and its crew) were on the way here in Manila and that is the nearest (place to hold the exercise). There is no particular reason," said Balilo, stressing the activity was not meant to agitate China.

"There is no particular reason why they (PCG and USCG personnel) did that there," he said. "It was held in international waters so I think there is no problem with that."

The American vessel linked up with PCG ships for the exercise before proceeding to Pier 15 in Manila on Wednesday morning for a port visit.

Balilo said "two large ships from the China Coast Guard" were spotted during the exercise, adding the two Chinese ships tailed the US ship from Singapore.

"While we (PCG and US ships) were in the area, they (Chinese ships) stayed there, lurking within the area," he said. —KBK, GMA News