MANILA – Chinese ships continue to swarm the West Philippine Sea that is detrimental to the peace and security of the region, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) said in a statement Tuesday.
“The continuous swarming of Chinese vessels poses a threat to the safety of navigation, the 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, reiterating the Philippine government’s demand for China to withdraw all its ships in the West Philippine Sea.
This, after an April 11 sovereignty patrol observed an estimated 240 Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels lingering in the area.
Citing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command report, the CMM vessels were reported in the territorial waters of the Municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan, and the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), with 136 militia vessels spotted off Burgos (Gaven) Reefs; nine at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef; 65 off Chigua (McKennan) Reef, six (6) off Panganiban (Mischief) Reef; three off Zamora (Subi) Reef; four off Pag-asa (Thitu) Island; one off Likas (West York) Island; five off Kota (Loaita) Island; and 11 at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Also spotted during the April 11 sovereignty patrol were the following People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels: two Houbei class missile warships off Panganiban Reef; a corvette-class warship off Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef; and a Navy tugboat at Zamora Reef.
Some two CCG vessels were also seen in the territorial sea off Pag-asa Island.
Additional monitoring by the AFP reported two PLAN, three CCG, and 10 CMM vessels off Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough) Shoal.
All these warships of the PLA Navy contribute to the militarization of the area.
It added that the combined presence of PLAN warships, CCG and CMM off Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ is prejudicial to the peace and security of the region.
“Finally, the NTF WPS views with serious alarm the 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,” NTF WPS said.
It added that ships, which are now scattered off Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Pag-asa Island, are estimated to be 60 meters in length.
“A minimum estimate that each can catch one 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,” the statement read.
These acts, it added, fall under illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF).
In an earlier patrol by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Chinese poachers were likewise spotted illegally collecting giant clams in the vicinity of the Pag-asa Island.
The report said the Chinese poachers immediately left when approached by the PCG.
NTF WPS said the harvesting of giant clams 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).
“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,” it added. Priam Nepomuceno / PNA – northboundasia.com