A geospatial intelligence firm on Thursday revealed that some 200 Chinese ships are still moored in the West Philippine Sea as the Philippine Coast Guard announced it will hold the second leg of its joint maritime exercise with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources next week.
“It will be held again in the West Philippine Sea,” the PCG said in a message to reporters.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armando Balilo said they are in the process of enlisting 4,000 more personnel to beef up its monitoring capabilities.
Balilo said the PCG is also hoping to receive two 94-meter multi-role response vessels from Japan and offshore patrol vessels from France.
On April 27, the PCG drove away at least seven Chinese militia vessels at the Sabina Shoal off Puerto Princesa in Palawan, which is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Meanwhile, Simularity co-founder and CEO Liz Derr said that as of May 3, only about seven ships were spotted over Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun).
But Derr said another 150 ships were also sighted about nine nautical miles over Hughes Reef, which is part of the Union Banks in Spratly Islands.
Derr said some 50 ships were also monitored over Gaven Reef, located about three nautical miles from the country’s exclusive economic zone.
“We’re looking at about 200 ships. We don’t have the flags for the ships at this point but they look very much [like] the ones we saw at Whitsun Reef. They are still in the Philippine EEZ,” Derr said, in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel.
“Almost all of them are moored. They don’t move… Just like they were at Whitsun Reef,” the intelligence firm executive added.
Simularity analyzes geography using satellites and drones. The firm’s profile says its expertise is “finding things that are hard to see.”
Last month, more than 200 Chinese vessels were spotted at the Julian Felipe Reef, an incursion that Manila has formally protested.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila had denied allegations the vessels were part of Beijing’s militia, describing them as fishing vessels taking shelter due to “rough sea conditions.” It also insisted that the reef is part of their territory.
The West Philippine Sea is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in near entirety under its so-called “nine-dash line” claim.
Besides the Philippines and China, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Taiwan also have overlapping claims over the resource-rich waterway.
In 2016, A United Nations-Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of Manila and invalidated China’s massive claims over the South China Sea, and upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
However, Beijing rejected the PCA’s landmark arbitral award.
Major trading countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan among others have accused China of militarizing also the marine resources- and energy-rich waters, a major international trade route.
The Philippine government has filed several protests regarding the continued incursions of Chinese ships in the country’s EEZ.