Chinese militia vessels still in West Philippine Sea – task force
MANILA, Philippines — Around 240 Chinese militia vessels — not mere fishing vessels as claimed by Chinese authorities — are still inside the territorial waters of the country, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said on Tuesday.
According to the NTF-WPS, the latest sovereignty patrols done by government assets showed that ships of the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) and the Chinese Coast Guard have remained on the waters off Kalayaan town in Palawan — well within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
The NTF-WPS report, which cited the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command, detailed the number of Chinese maritime militia per area in the West Philippine Sea:
- 136 CMMs at Burgos (Gaven) Reef
- 6 at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef
- 65 at Chigua (McKennan) Reef
- 6 at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef
- 3 at Zamora (Subi) Reef
- 4 at the Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands
- 1 at Likas (West York) Island
- 5 at Kota (Loaita) Island
- 11 at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal
“NTF-WPS denounces the continuous swarming in the WPS by Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Maritime Militia which are claimed by Chinese authorities to be ordinary fishing vessels,” the task force said.
“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,” it added.
According to the NTF-WPS, these acts fall under “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF).”
The task force also noted that a previous patrol made by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) found Chinese poachers 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.
The task force also confirmed the presence of Houbei class missile warships within the Philippines EEZ — the same type of warship that chased a boat carrying an ABS-CBN news team that tried to check the situation over the Julian Felipe Reef.
“Also spotted during the sovereignty patrol were the following People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels — two (2) Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban Reef, one (1) Corvette class warship at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, and one (1) Navy Tugboat at Zamora Reef,” the task force noted.
“Further, two (2) CCG vessels were seen in the territorial sea of the Pag-asa Islands. Additional monitoring by the AFP reported two (2) PLAN, three (3) CCG, and ten (10) CMM vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough) Shoal. All these warships of the PLA Navy contribute to the militarization of the area,” it added.
The latest issue between the Philippines and China started last March 21, when the PCG and the NTF-WPS made a report about 220 Chinese ships spotted in line formation near the Julian Felipe Reef.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has filed a diplomatic protest over the issue since then, while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has given out strong-worded statements as the Chinese ships remained in the area despite the repeated demands by the Philippine government to leave.
Previously, Lorenzana said that Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian had “a lot of explaining to do” with the ships still present at the reef, stressing that he was no fool — referring to the insistence of the Chinese ships to stay despite weather now being better.
This is not the first time China made an incursion into the West Philippine Sea, which has prompted the Philipines to file numerous diplomatic protests against the Asian superpower.
China claims ownership of almost the entire South China Sea, saying that their nine-dash-line territorial claim had historical basis.
However, even as the Philippines won in the ruling released by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 — which invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim — China said that it would acknowledge the decision.
“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,” NTF-WPS said on Tuesday.
“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,” it added. “The Philippine government reiterates its demand upon China to withdraw all its vessels from the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ.”
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