The United States’ nuclear-powered attack submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777) is in Subic Bay, Zambales, amid a “standoff” between the Philippines and China in Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal).

The submarine arrived in Subic Bay on May 13, according to a statement posted at the US Pacific Command (US PaCom) website.

“The crew is proud of our recent contributions as part of our country’s commitment to maintaining freedom of navigation, peace and stability in the region,” Cmdr. Richard Rhinehart, North Carolina’s commanding officer, said in the statement.

The North Carolina’s visit is part of her “Western Pacific deployment,” said Lt. Lara Bollinger, public affairs officer of the US PaCom’s Submarine Group 7.

Western parts of the Pacific Ocean include the Sea of Japan, Celebes Sea, Coral Sea, East China Sea, Philippine Sea, Sulu Sea, Tasman Sea, Yellow Sea, and the South China Sea.

North Carolina’s arrival came amid what is now a month-long “standoff” between vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Surveillance in Panatag, which both countries claim.

Panatag Shoal, called Huangyan Island by China, is located in the South China Sea, 124 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales. Masinloc is only a little more than 70 kilometers away from Subic Bay.

Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Tonsay, however, said the North Carolina’s visit, which will last until May 19, was only for “routine ship replenishment” and has nothing to do with the ongoing standoff in Panatag.

“Walang kinalaman ‘yan, ‘yun nga ang inuulit namin, the Philippines stands in the crossroads of a major oceanic sealane so talagang geographic ang location natin, dadaanan at dadaanan tayo ng mga barko, that includes them,” Tonsay told reporters by phone.

North Carolina, which measures more than 350 feet long and weighs more than 7,800 tons when submerged, is one of four “Virginia class” submarines designed by the US for the “post Cold-War environment,” Bollinger said.

Virginia class submarines are able to attack targets ashore with highly accurate Tomahawk cruise missiles and conduct covert long-term surveillance of land areas, littoral waters, or other sea-based forces, according to an article at the US Pacific Fleet Submarine Force’s website.

North Carolina’s homeport is in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

“She is designed to operate with stealth, agility and endurance in the world’s littoral regions, as well as the deep oceans,” Bollinger said.

“She brings to the region the capability to conduct the full spectrum of potential submarine missions including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, strike, naval special warfare involving special operations forces, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and mine warfare,” Bollinger added. (John Roson)

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