Chinese warships, poachers spotted in West Philippine Sea

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) has said that aside from Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) and Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels swarming in West Philippine Sea, Chinese PLA Navy and poachers were also spotted during maritime patrols conducted by the Philippine government.

“The latest round of sovereignty patrols conducted by the Philippine Government on April 11 observed an estimated two hundred forty (240) Chinese vessels lingering in the WPS,” NTF-WPS said in a statement released April 13.

The 240 CMM vessels are distributed in different WPS features. One hundred thirty-six (136) CMMs at Burgos (Gaven) Reef, nine (9) at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, sixty-five (65) at Chigua (McKennan) Reef, six (6) at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, three (3) at Zamora (Subi) Reef, four (4) at the Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands, one (1) at Likas (West York) Island, five (5) at Kota (Loaita) Island, and eleven (11) at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

“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 added.

“Also spotted during the sovereignty patrol were the following Peoples 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. 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,” it noted.

The government task force said presence of PLA Navy warships contribute to the militarization of the area.

It also said that it 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 travelled from the vicinity of Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal to the coast of Palawan.

“The incident is now under investigation,” NTF-WPS said.

“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 task force said. “The Philippine government reiterates its demand upon China to withdraw all its vessels from the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ.”

“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.