Armed Forces of the Philippine (AFP) Western Command sighted at least 600 Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-asa Island in West Philippine Sea in the first quarter of 2019.
“The foreign vessels monitored in Pag-asa Island are all Chinese fishing vessels deployed in the vicinity of the sandbar,” Lieutenant Colonel Elpidio Factor said as quoted by ABS-CBN News.
“These vessels are considered as Chinese maritime militia and are occasionally complemented by Chinese Coast Guard vessel to sustain China’s assertive presence in the vicinity of the sandbars,” he added.
Factor added that “the command is also aware of the reported presence of more than the usual number of Chinese maritime militia at sandbar number 2. This is also monitored in Kota and Panata Islands.”
In February 2019, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) noted that construction on Pagasa Island in West Philippine Sea provoked a Chinese paramilitary response.
“China has responded to this new construction by deploying a large fleet of ships from Subi (Zamora) Reef, just over 12 nautical miles southwest of Thitu (Pagasa). These include several People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) and China Coast Guard (CCG) ships, along with dozens of fishing vessels ranging in size from 30 to 70 meters,” AMTI said.
“The fishing boats have mostly been anchored between 2 and 5.5 nautical miles west of Thitu, while the naval and coast guard ships operate slightly farther away to the south and west,” it added. “The fishing vessels display all the hallmarks of belonging to China’s maritime militia, including having no gear in the water that would indicate fishing activity and disabling their Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceivers to hide their activities (for instance, on December 20 only 1 of the 95 or more vessels engaged in the deployment transmitted AIS data).”