US Coast Guard ship joins maritime drills near Spratlys

USCGC Stratton in Palawan

USCGC Stratton in Palawan. PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

MANILA, Philippines — A US Coast Guard ship has carried out maritime exercises with Philippine and Japanese forces near the West Philippine Sea.

The USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752) arrived in Palawan on Wednesday for the Sama-Sama exercises, said Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Capt. Arman Balilo. The Sama-Sama is an annual activity of the Philippines and US designed to undertake complex maritime training.

READ: Japanese navy joins PH-US exercises near WPS for first time

Palawan is an island province in the Philippines closest to the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The resource-rich waterway is being claimed mostly by China, which has built massive military outposts in recent years to strengthen its claims.

This is the second deployment of a US Coast Guard ship in Philippine waters in six months. Last May, the Philippine and US coast guards conducted exercises near Scarborough Shoal.

Aside from its navy, the US has stepped up in using its coast guard to broaden its reach in the South China Sea amid Chinese expansion.

READ: Chinese vessels shadow PH-US Coast Guard drills near Panatag

The exercises are being conducted amid fresh tensions between the Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea.

The Philippines early this month filed a diplomatic protest against China after Chinese coast ships were spotted near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, where the Philippine Navy has grounded a ship to serve as its detachment.

US Coast Guard chief to visit Manila

US Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz will arrive in Manila next week for a series of engagements, Balilo said.

He is expected to visit the PCG headquarters and the National Coast Watch Center.

READ: US Coast Guard to expand Western Pacific presence to curb Chinese aggression

On Monday, the US Marines and the PCG Special Operations Force launched the 5-day Kamandag (Kaagapay ng mga Mandirigma ng Dagat) exercises which aims “to promote multinational interoperability, readiness and capabilities.”

Participants, which include 8 personnel from Philippine National Police Maritime Group, 12 from PCG, 15 from US Marine Corps and, 18 from Philippine Navy Marine Reconnaissance Group, will undergo rigid board search and seizure training, Balilo said. /je

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