An estimated 240 Chinese vessels were spotted lingering in various areas of the West Philippine Sea, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) reported Tuesday.
In a statement, the NTF-WPS denounced the continuous swarming in the WPS of Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and maritime militia, which Chinese authorities claimed to be ordinary fishing vessels, inside the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The AFP Western Command in the latest round of sovereignty patrols conducted 11 April, reported the presence of Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels in the territorial waters of the Municipality of Kalayaan, Province of Palawan and the Phl EZZ:
- Burgos (Gaven) Reef – 136
- Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef – 9
- Chigua (McKennan) Reef – 65
- Panganiban (Mischief) Reef – 6
- Zamora (Subi) Reef – 3
- Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands – 4
- Likas (West York) Island — 1,
- Kota (Loaita) Island – 5
- Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal – 11
“These 240 CMM vessels, now dispersed at the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Pag-asa Islands, are about sixty (60) meters in length. A minimum estimate that each can catch one (1) ton of fish amounts to a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day that the massed Chinese fishing vessels remain in the West Philippine Sea. These acts fall under illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF),” reported the NTF-WPS.
Authorities also reported poaching of giant clams near Pag-asa Islands in violation of Philippine law.
“During an earlier patrol by the Philippine Coast Guard, Chinese poachers were likewise observed collecting giant clams in the vicinity of the Pag-asa Islands. The poachers quickly departed when approached by the Philippine Coast Guard. This act is a blatant violation of Philippine fisheries and wildlife laws, and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),” NTF-WPS said.
Also spotted during the sovereignty patrol were the following Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels:
- Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban Reef – 2
- Corvette class warship at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef – 1
- Navy Tugboat at Zamora Reef – 1
Two CCG vessels were also seen in the territorial sea of the Pag-asa Islands. Additional monitoring by the AFP reported two PLAN, three CCG, and 10 CMM vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough) Shoal.
“All these warships of the PLA Navy contribute to the militarization of the area,” NTF-WPS said.
The NTF-WPS also viewed “with serious alarm” recent reports that a civilian vessel carrying a local news crew conducting interviews of Filipino fishermen was followed and shadowed by a CCG vessel and an armed Houbei class missile warship as it traveled from the vicinity of Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal to the coast of Palawan.
The incident is now under investigation.
The NTF-WPS also said that the combined presence of PLAN warships, CCG and CMM in the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ is “prejudicial to the peace and security of the region.”
“The continuous swarming of Chinese vessels poses a threat to the safety of navigation, safety of life at sea, and impedes the exclusive right of Filipinos to benefit from the marine wealth in the EEZ,” the NTF-WPS said.
“The Philippine government reiterates its demand upon China to withdraw all its vessels from the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ,” it added.
“In keeping with its role as a development partner, China should take the Philippine representations seriously and respect Philippine sovereignty, rights and interests in consonance with the further strengthening of Philippine-China bilateral relations.”