The Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Saturday raised concerns over the Chinese maritime militia vessels and the case of massive coral harvesting along Rozul (Iroquois) Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
In a weekly news forum in Quezon City, WesCom commander Vice Admiral Albert Carlos reported the “concerning resurgence” of swarming incidents in Rozul Reef, with about 40 Chinese fishing vessels have been spotted in the area on 15 September.
Rozul Reef is located within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
Carlos noted that the latest figure is higher compared to the 33 vessels spotted on 24 August and the 24 monitored on 7 September.
Swarming was also observed in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal, where five CFVs were spotted, and two CFVs in Baragatan (Nares) Bank.
While authorities successfully conducted a maritime law enforcement operation in early July, which temporarily drove away around 50 Chinese militia vessels, Carlos said foreign fishing ships returned in a resurgence in late August.
“There was a considerable amount of time na walang swarming doon because of our presence there,” he added.
Carlos said the AFP and other concerned government agencies are also boosting their presence in the area, including the Philippine Navy and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
“But the good news is we also have our presence there. So, we are addressing the issue of this swarming,” he said.
“We’d like to maintain 100 percent, 365 days a year. But because of the weather, limited resources…our troops have to go back to port to refuel, to take some rest.”
Coral harvesting in Phl EEZ
Carlos also noted that PN deployed its divers to conduct an “underwater survey” in the swarmed area and found that “there were no more corals” in the Rozul Reef, suspecting there’s massive illegal harvesting of coral in the area.
However, Carlos clarified that they are yet to determine whether the Chinese vessels are responsible for massive coral harvesting in the Rozul Reef.
The WesCom chief said the military is coordinating with the scientists and experts to assess the area.
He added that it specifically wants to verify the divers’ assessment that massive harvesting of corals happened just recently.
“We are not making any conclusion at this time. It’s a work in progress but we just want to report coral harvesting in the area where (they were) seen loitering and swarming,” he said.
Amid recent incidents, Carlos said government troops want to “keep the peace and avoid miscalculation” in the WPS.
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