The United States confirmed on January 12 that a large amount of fuel is being transferred from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to a commercial site in Subic Bay, Philippines.
The development has raised eyebrows and stoked concerns, particularly as a Philippine lawmaker links the fuel transfer to escalating tensions over Taiwan.
The revelation about the fuel’s arrival comes after various international shipping monitoring agencies identified the departure of the US-flagged tanker Yosemite Trader from Pearl Harbor on Dec. 20.
The tanker was later anchored approximately 50 km from Subic Bay on Jan. 10, coinciding with reports of the US military’s interest in re-establishing its presence in the area.
“We can confirm that the Yosemite Trader, a commercial tanker, is currently in the vicinity of Subic Bay, Philippines, in order to transfer clean fuel from the US military facility at Red Hill, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to a commercial storage facility at Subic Bay,” US Embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay told reporters.
The US Embassy in Manila has also assured that the fuel transfer adhered to proper protocols and constituted one of “many regular shipments.” It clarified that the fuel would be stored in a “commercial storage facility,” according to PNA.
“This is one of multiple shipments of safe, clean fuel from the Red Hill facility to other locations in the Pacific,” he added.
The source of the fuel transfer, the Red Hill base in Pearl Harbor, was mandated by the Pentagon in 2022 to undergo clearance and decommissioning due to environmental hazards.
The embassy official, however, refrained from commenting on the prospective utilization of the mentioned fuel shipment. In response to inquiries from the media, he stated, “Unfortunately, I can’t speak to future use. I can say that we regularly ship fuel to Subic Bay and various other locations in the region.”
Similarly, Colonel Medel Aguilar, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), asserted that the military has nothing to elucidate concerning the issue.
“There is nothing for the AFP to explain. The fuel shipment and the process the US followed, which are all administrative in nature, did not involve the participation of the AFP,” according to the spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
US Gearing Up For A Potential Conflict?
While the US embassy has acknowledged the transfer, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority stated in a release on January 12 that the US tanker has abandoned a plan to transfer a fuel shipment from a naval facility in Hawaii to a former US military base in the Philippines.
The cancellation reportedly occurred due to the absence of diplomatic clearance from Manila.
“Yosemite Trader has not entered the waters of Subic Bay and was not able to discharge its cargo at the storage facility as earlier reported,” Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority said.
However, the spokesperson for the US Embassy in Manila stated that the embassy would not provide comments on SBMA’s statement.
Senator Imee Marcos, the older sister of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, has raised concerns about the fuel transfer, urging the government to provide more information.
She expressed suspicions about the transfer’s connection to the pre-positioning of military supplies in the country amid predictions of a possible conflict between China and the US over Taiwan.
Last year, the senator engaged in conflicts with the administration, citing various issues, including its contentious choice to extend a bilateral agreement enabling US forces to have increased access to military bases in the Philippines.
In early 2023, the Philippines and the US enhanced their security alliance under the provisions of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), expanding U.S. military access to bases in the Philippine archipelago from five to nine.
Subic is not included in the locations specified by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two allies.
In recent years, tensions between Washington and Beijing have heightened, particularly concerning the self-governing island of Taiwan.
China asserts sovereignty over Taiwan, while the United States, despite officially recognizing Beijing’s ‘One-China’ policy, has consistently backed the Taiwanese government and pledged to safeguard the island in the face of potential military conflict with Beijing.
The relocationn of US fuel coincides with the upcoming presidential election in Taiwan this weekend. Several candidates have voiced aspirations for Taiwanese independence, triggering warnings from Beijing that “Taiwan independence means war.”