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Philippine Coast Guard accuses Chinese vessels of ‘dangerous’ maneuvers

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Manila, Philippines—The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday accused Chinese vessels of “dangerous” maneuvers during a nine-day patrol near a reef off the coast of the Southeast Asian country.

The Philippine vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua was deployed in early February to patrol the waters around Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground in the South China Sea, and deliver provisions to Filipino fishermen and ensure their safety.

The reef has been a flashpoint between the countries since China seized it from the Philippines in 2012. Since then, Beijing has deployed patrol boats that Manila says harass Philippine vessels and prevent Filipino fishermen from reaching the lagoon where fish are more plentiful.

During the patrol, Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels “performed dangerous and blocking maneuvers at sea against BRP Teresa Magbanua four times, with the CCG vessels crossing the bow of the PCG vessel twice,” the Philippine Coast Guard said in a statement.

PCG Commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan said the 2,260-ton BRP Teresa Magbanua was deployed to conduct a routine mission of monitoring and safeguarding the fishermen, who were sailing within the country’s exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

The four CCG vessels that “shadowed” the Philippine ship “on more than 40 occasions” were identified with bow numbers 3105, 3302, 3063, and 3064. PCG also observed what it described as “four Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels.”

Videos released by the PCG show a CCG vessel meters from the port beam of the BRP Teresa Magbanua, before it crosses the path of the Filipino boat.

“Nevertheless, the PCG vessel professionally engaged both the CCG and CMM vessels through radio reiterating the clear and principled position of the Philippines in accordance with international law,” the PCG statement read.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Scarborough Shoal is 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and nearly 900 kilometres from the nearest major Chinese land mass of Hainan.

PCG said it already provided assistance such as food and groceries to 100 Filipino fishermen in 14 boats as they completed maritime operations in the disputed shoal known colloquially as Bajo de Masinloc.

Admiral Gavan assured the public that the PCG remained steadfast in their commitment to President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and the Filipino nation to protect our territorial waters. “The Coast Guard’s white ships will consistently ensure Filipino fishermen’s safety and welfare,” he said.

“Every Coast Guardian will do more, so that the best public service prevails in accordance with the President’s vision and call [to] action towards ‘Bagong Pilipinas’ by ensuring food security, among others, being a fundamental element of the social chance to drive national development,” he added.

Previously, small fishermen were advised by the Defense Department not to travel alone in this contested part of the West Philippines Sea (WPS). This, after Filipino fishermen reported harassment from Chinese-flagged vessels several times.

The recent incidents came two months after tense standoffs between China and the Philippines around disputed reefs in the South China Sea that saw a collision between vessels from the two countries and Chinese ships blasting water cannon at Philippine boats.

China claims almost the entire sea and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.

It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarised to reinforce its claims.

Chinese and Philippine officials last month agreed on the need for closer dialogue to deal with “maritime emergencies” in the waterway as tensions escalated. –With AFP


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