The Philippine Navy’s new missile-frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) is preparing to set sail for the biannual Rim of The Pacific Exercise off the coast of Hawaii. This comes after two crew members of the Rizal tested positive for COVID-19, the Philippine Navy says. The two sailors are currently undergoing treatment and quarantine in Quezon City.

The Philippine Navy tested the rest of the crew on Sunday, along with other personnel set to sail for RIMPAC. The Rizal, with a crew of about  100 sailors, is scheduled to depart for Hawaii on Wednesday.

“Aside from the two personnel from FF-150 that were (earlier) confirmed to be positive (for COVID-19), all (crew members) got negative results,” Philippine Navy spokeswoman Lt. Commander Maria Christina Roxas told the Philippine News Agency on Thursday.

This is the Rizal’s first voyage, making RIMPAC its “shakedown cruise” as the crew tests the ship. The biannual exercise is the world’s largest naval exercise, but due to the pandemic is being scaled back in both size and duration.

The exercise will also take place entirely at sea — there will be no amphibious landings or shore leave for participating troops. Ships will come ashore only for fueling and maintenance.

Pearl Harbor ship RIMPAC1. 8 july 2016

Ships docked at Pearl Harbor during RIMPAC 2016.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This year’s RIMPAC comes at a time of heightened tension between the United States and China. Under the Philippines controversial president Rodrigo Duterte relations with China have warmed, but he seemingly rebuked China last month when he hastily walked back the cancellation of a security agreement with the U.S. military.

Beijing has asserted nearly exclusive claim over resources and trade routes in the South China Sea, and Chinese ships have attacked Vietnamese and Filipino fisherman, leading to condemnation from Hanoi and Manila.

Last week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the U.S. rejected all China’s claims to resources and trade routes in the South China Sea, a move several Filipino fishermen told Al Jazeera they welcomed.

This year’s RIMPAC is scheduled from Aug. 17 to Aug. 31.

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