MANILA, Philippines — An estimated 240 Chinese vessels continue to linger in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) reported.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the NTF-WPS denounced the continuous swarming in the West Philippine Sea by the Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia which are claimed by Chinese authorities to be ordinary fishing vessels.
The NTF-WPS said that its sovereignty patrols conducted on April 11 observed an estimated 240 Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ territorial waters.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (WesCom) reported the presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels in the territorial waters of the Municipality of Kalayaan, Province of Palawan, and the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
The AFP-WesCom said that the Chinese vessels were found in the following areas:
- 136 vessels at Burgos (Gaven) Reef
- 9 vessels at Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun)
- 65 at Chigua (McKennan) Reef
- 6 at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef
- 3 at Zamora (Subi) Reef
- 4 at the Pagasa (Thitu) Islands
- 1 at Likas (West York) Island
- 5 ay Kota (Loaita) Island
11 at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal
“These 240 CMM vessels, now dispersed at the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Pagasa Islands are about 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 NTF-WPS said.
“These acts fall under illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,” it added.
The task force also said that an earlier patrol conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard observed Chinese poachers collecting giant clams in the vicinity of the Pagasa 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 International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),” the NTF-WPS said.
Also spotted during the sovereignty patrol were the following People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels – two Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban Reef, one Corvette class warship at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, and one Navy Tugboat at Zamora Reef. Further, two CCG vessels were seen in the territorial sea of the Pagasa Islands.
Additional monitoring by the AFP reported two PLAN, three Chinese Coast Guard, and 10 maritime militia vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough) Shoal. All these warships of the PLA Navy contribute to the militarization of the area.
The 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 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 said.
“The Philippine government reiterates its demand upon China to withdraw all its vessels from the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ,” it added.
The NTF-WPS further called on China to respect Philippine sovereignty.
“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 said.
The NTF-WPS’ intensified maritime operations in the West Philippine Sea follow the recent escalation of disputes over the resource-rich waters in March after the Philippine military spotted more than 200 Chinese boats at the Julian Felipe Reef.
China claimed that the area is part of its traditional fishing ground and that the vessels there were not maritime militia vessels but fishing boats that were only seeking temporary shelter due to rough sea conditions.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier said it has summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian to explain the lingering presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
The DFA has repeatedly fired off diplomatic protest and called for the immediate withdrawal of the vessels.