8 Chinese vessels shadow Philippine ship on 9-day patrol of Scarborough

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By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINE Coast Guard (PCG) said on Sunday it had monitored at least eight Chinese vessels during its recent nine-day patrol of Scarborough Shoal, an age-old fishing ground of Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea.

PCG spokesman for the West Philippine Sea Jay Tristan Tarriela said four Chinese Coast Guard vessels shadowed the 97-meter BRP Teresa Magbanua “on more than 40 occasions, with the closest distance being 176 meters from its side” during the Philippines’ patrol of the shoal on Feb. 1 to 9.

China’s coast guard vessels “performed dangerous and blocking maneuvers at sea against Terese Magbanua four times,” he said, noting that they crossed the bow of the PCG vessel twice.

The acts were a clear violation of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, he said. “Additionally, the PCG vessel observed the presence of four Chinese Maritime Militia vessels,” he added.

The BRP Teresa Magbanua conducted itself professionally by engaging the Chinese vessels “through radio, reiterating the clear and principled position of the Philippines in accordance with international law,” said Mr. Tarriela.

Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, has been a major source of tensions between the countries, with the Chinese Coast Guard preventing Filipino fishermen from accessing the fishing ground, which falls within Manila’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In mid-January, a China Coast Guard ship deployed a rubber boat to chase a small boat of Filipino fishermen collecting shells in the vicinity of the shoal.

One of the five Chinese personnel forced them to return the shells to the sea before being allowed to leave. They were subsequently driven away.

A 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea recognized the traditional fishing rights of small-scale Filipino and Chinese fishermen in the shoal.

The Philippines and China held a bilateral consultation on the South China Sea on Jan. 17, vowing to pursue friendly talks to manage their tensions in one of the world’s most important waterways.

The BRP Teresa Magbanua’s recent experience “demonstrates that any short-term change in tactics does not in any way change China’s long-term strategy to consolidate control over the West Philippine Sea,” said Raymond M. Powell, a fellow at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.

“China likely hoped that it could convince Manila to abandon its assertive transparency campaign in exchange for assurances of reduced maritime aggression on its part,” he said in an X message.

“Unfortunately, Beijing’s promises are famously subject to change.”

The recent nine-day patrol was successful, with the PCG being able to deliver food packs and groceries to Filipino fishermen fishing in the shoal’s vicinity.

The PCG had “closely monitored and supported” about 100 Filipino fishermen in 14 fishing boats throughout the mission.

In the Sunday statement, the PCG reiterated that it has sovereignty over Bajo De Masinloc and its territorial sea, and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the surrounding waters falling within the country’s EEZ “as measured from the Philippine archipelagic baselines, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award.”

“The activities of the Filipino fisherfolk and of the PCG in the area are consistent with national laws and the Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea.”

Last Friday, the Philippine fisheries bureau said its vessel BRP Datu Sanday was able to deliver food, medicines, fuel, and other supplies to Filipinos fishing in Iroqouis (Rozul) Reef on Feb. 5.

The agency said its vessel had not spotted any Chinese vessels during the mission, noting that on previous occasions, it had monitored around 30 Chinese vessels, including maritime militia vessels, around the reef.

During the Feb. 5 mission, BRP Datu Sanday had seen eight mother boats with an approximate total fish catch of 12 tons by all fishermen in the area.

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