The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has accused its Chinese counterpart of steering one of its ships within meters of a Filipino patrol vessel in the disputed South China Sea, breaking international rules and risking a collision.
The incident happened on March 2 near the contested Scarborough Shoal —one of the region’s richest fishing grounds and a flashpoint between the two countries—but was only made public Sunday.
It was the fourth time in the past year that a Chinese coast guard vessel had conducted “close distance maneuvering” near the shoal, the PCG said in a statement.
China seized Scarborough from the Philippines in 2012 following a tense standoff.
The Philippines continues to patrol the waters around the shoal, which is inside its exclusive economic zone.
“The behavior of the involved (China Coast Guard) vessels increased the risk of collision with four of our capital ships,” PCG chief Admiral Artemio Abu said.
In the March 2 incident, the PCG said the Chinese vessel came within about 19 meters of its patrol boat, which was in “clear violation” of the 1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.
The PCG has referred the matter to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) which recently summoned China’s ambassador over a separate incident involving a Chinese navy ship “lingering” in the Philippines’ archipelagic waters.
Abu said his agency was under government orders to maintain patrols near Scarborough Shoal, where Filipino fishermen continue to fish.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy or the DFA.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea, which China claims almost its entirety, have intensified in the final year of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in office.
Beijing has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over most of the South China Sea to be without basis.
Duterte set aside the ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment, which critics said have not materialized.
But in November he hardened his stance, expressing outrage after Chinese coastguard ships fired water cannons at Filipino boats.
This latest incident comes on the eve of the biggest-ever war games between the Philippines and the United States.
Recent maneuvers between the longtime allies have focused on potential conflict in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have competing claims.
In the latest incident involved the BRP Malabrigo and the Chinese coast guard vessel in the waters of Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag Shoal).
Abu said this was the fourth reported close distance maneuvering incident involving CCG vessels in the area.
On May 19, 2021, PCG-manned Bureau of Fisheries vessel MCS-3005 reported the first incident of close distance maneuvering involving CCG vessel 3301.
The second and the third incidents involved two CCG vessels (3301 and 3103) that conducted close distance maneuvering with BRP Capones (MRRV-4404) and BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) respectively, during the PCG’s maritime capability enhancement exercises in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc on June 1 and 2, 2021.
“We are fully aware of dangerous situations at sea, but these will not stop our deployment of assets and personnel in Bajo de Masinloc, Philippine Rise, and other parts of the country’s exclusive economic zones (EEZ),” Abu said.
Transportation Secretary Art Tugade has directed the PCG to continue upholding its mission of promoting the safety of life and property at sea and enforcing all applicable laws within the Philippine waters. With AFP