The Philippine and Vietnamese navies have agreed to strengthen cooperation among troops deployed in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, a Philippine Navy official said today.

The agreement covers “information sharing” and “interaction” among troops guarding the Northeast Cay and Southwest Cay, Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said.

“We are neighbors there so we need to cooperate. Information sharing will cover maritime doctrines, research and development, and intelligence gathering or monitoring,” Tonsay said in a phone interview.

Northeast Cay is occupied and called Parola by the Philippines. It lies 45 kilometers northwest of Pag-Asa Island, the largest Spratly island handled by Manila, and is only 3 kilometers north of Vietnamese-occupied Southwest Cay.

The accord was reached when Philippine Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama and Vietnam People’s Navy chief Adm. Nguyen Van Hien signed a memorandum of understanding during the former’s visit to Vietnam from March 11 to 14, Tonsay said.

During his visit, Pama also proposed to Vietnamese military officials joint patrols in “common maritime domains” and that Philippine Navy personnel be allowed to train at Vietnam’s high-tech Naval Shipyard X46, which can build various types of warships and high-speed vessels, Tonsay said.

Pama also suggested that a hotline be established between the Philippine and Vietnamese navies for operations, especially search and rescue. (John Roson)

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