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CHINA KEEPS HARASSING PHL VESSELS; TENSION UP; Sino Coast Guard in ‘dangerous’ maneuver, nearly hits PHL ship

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in chief

 

MANILA – Tensions between China and the Philippines soared to new heights anew as big China Coast Guard vessels again “constantly followed, harassed and obstructed” and  engaged two smaller Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) boats in a dangerous maneuver which nearly resulted in collision as two Chinese Navy warships and six militia boats watched.

The near-encounter took place on June 30 as the two PCG vessels, BRP Malabrigo and BRP Malapascua, were escorting a supply mission to the Armed Forces of the Philippine troops stationed in a ship in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) some 195 kilometers (105 nautical miles) from Philippine coast and within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

 Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said the Chinese ships “came close to [Philippine] vessels” at about 150 feet (45 meters), forcing  the two PCG ships to decrease their speed, even as they both responded to radio challenges from China and issued challenges of their own.

“Ang ginawa nila, they came close sa ating dalawang Philippine Coast Guard vessels with an approximate distance of 100 yards, while at the same time, ang ginawa ng ating 2 Coast Guard vessel, para ma-prevent itong possible banggaan, they have to decrease the speed,” said Tarriela in a briefing.

He said the Chinese Coast Guard vessels showed “blatant disregard” for the ‘Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea’ (COLREGs) in their attempts to obstruct the passage of PCG ships.

Tarriela said the PCG aircraft also received radio challenges from the Chinese ships.

“While at the same time, they are doing this maneuvering and blocking and harassing, shadowing of the PCG vessels, they are also conducting radio challenges. They (China Coast Guard radio challenge) were (saying) that Ayungin Shoal, they have full jurisdiction over it, and we are not supposed to be in that area,” Tarriela said.

“It appears that the [Chinese Coast Guard vessels] are exerting additional effort to prevent the PCG from reaching Ayungin Shoal,” Tarriela added.

“This is particularly alarming as the Philippine Navy’s naval operation is solely humanitarian in nature. Despite this, the Chinese have deployed their warships, raising even greater concerns,” he added.

But despite the Chinese Coast Guard aggression, the AFP successfully carried out its mission at the Ayungin shoal, he said.

He said during the incident, the PCG also spotted two People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy vessels at a distance of 9 nautical miles from Ayungin, which Tarriela describes as concerning.

The “aggressive actions”and “dangerous maneuvers” of the Chinese vessels which were recorded by the PCG and the media triggered deep concerns of Philippine officials like senators and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Senators led by Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged the Philippine government to raise the WPS issue to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly following continued aggressive actions of Chinese vessels against Philippine ships in the WPS.

The senators slammed China’s actions for their “complete disrespect of international law.”

The Philippines has  repeatedly accused the Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militias of harassing and attacking fishing boats and other vessels in the region.

In January, Filipino fishermen reported that the China Coast Guard harassed them also at the Ayungin Shoal. In February, the China Coast Guard with bow number 5205 directed a military-grade laser light to the PCG’s BRP Malapascua in the same area causing temporary blindness to its crew.

On April 23, two China Coast Guard vessels “intercepted” PCG vessels near the Ayungin Shoal, exhibiting “aggressive tactics” towards BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo.

 As this development, a Philippine Navy official said there is a need to allocate additional troops and law enforcement resources to fully protect the resources of Ayungin Shoal to combat illegal activities that threaten its ecosystem.

Naval Forces West (NFW) chief Commodore Alan Javier said during his visit to the BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) and personnel manning the Navy ship last June 29 that the additional troops and law enforcement assets will help prevent illegal activities in the area like the use of compressors, cyanides and more recently “superlights” or fishing light attractors.

Javier visited BRP Sierra Madre as he joined the routine rotation of troops and reprovisioning (RoRe) mission, which aims to ensure the well-being of soldiers stationed at BRP Sierra Madre.

“Commodore Alan M. Javier, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Western Command’s (Wescom) NFW’s commander, recently visited Ayungin Shoal’s lone outpost, BRP Sierra Madre as part of his responsibilities to assess the welfare of troops deployed in the area. His visit marks the second high-ranking AFP officer to visit the outpost this year,” Wescom spokesperson Commander Joseph Ariel Coloma said in a statement forwarded Wednesday.

The NFW chief boarded the same civilian-contracted wooden resupply boat that Wescom chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos had used during his visit to the station last June.

The visit allowed Javier to personally witness the conditions faced by troops on the frontlines and gain firsthand insight into their challenges. (alfred.gabot@gmail.com)