MANILA • Japan has offered to send patrol ships to deal with a growing piracy threat in the southern Philippine waters bordering Indonesia and Malaysia, a senior Philippine defence official said.
A surge in piracy off parts of southern Philippines is forcing ship owners to divert vessels through other waters, pushing up costs and shipping times. Dozens of sailors have been taken captive by militant group Abu Sayyaf.
Japanese Vice-Minister Ro Manabe offered the assistance at a meeting in Tokyo last Friday and expressed readiness to contribute to efforts by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia "in addressing piracy and terrorism", said Mr Raymund Quilop, Philippine Assistant Defence Minister for Assessments and International Affairs, on Tuesday.
A senior Japanese Defence Ministry official, however, gave a different account of the Tokyo meeting and said that no offer of patrols was made to the Philippines, just "capacity building".
Leaders of both countries agreed last autumn that Japan would give the Philippines high-speed small boats for its counter-terrorism efforts, but it was not clear if that was part of the apparent offer made by Mr Manabe.
Efforts by the Philippines to strengthen its security ties with Japan come as it seeks to diversify defence relations that are traditionally aligned with the United States. The aim is to also include Russia and China.
Last month, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked Beijing to send its ships to thwart piracy by the Abu Sayyaf, which is linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group. China has yet to issue a response to that request.
China has also been in discussions about defence-related loans for purchasing its arms. It will donate US$14 million (S$19.9 million) worth of unspecified military equipment, for which Manila has submitted a wish list, and has made available US$500 million in loans for planes and ships.
Russia has offered to sell the Philippines anything it wanted, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told Reuters last week.
Late last year, the Philippines made an agreement with Indonesia and Malaysia to chase down Islamist militants and pirates in the Sulu and Celebes Sea.
Abu Sayyaf is holding captive 27 foreigners and Filipinos on the southern island of Jolo.
Philippine Deputy Defence Minister Ricardo David told reporters that two of the five TC-90 surveillance planes leased from Japan will be transferred to Manila next month to help patrol the South China Sea as well as waters in the south.