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Chinese ships again block PCG vessels near Ayungin Shoal

By: Julie Aurelio, Nestor Corrales - Philippine Daily Inquirer | February 18,2024 - 06:33 AM

Chinese ships again block PCG vessels near Ayungin

FILE PHOTO: The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) confirmed the presence of at least 30 suspected Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels in Sabina and Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippines Sea.(Photo courtesy of PCG)

Chinese ships, including a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel, have again blocked Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, where the dilapidated BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded since 1999.

American maritime expert Ray Powell on Saturday said the CCG vessel with bow number 5203 and two Chinese maritime militia ships moved to block access to Ayungin Shoal as PCG vessels BRP Cabra and Sindangan passed south of Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef on Friday night.

In a message to the Inquirer, Powell said the PCG vessels, “did not approach the BRP Sierra Madre.”

“They passed by the [Ayungin] shoal and continued north,” he said.

The PCG has yet to issue a statement on the incident.

On Feb. 2, the Philippines held a successful resupply mission to troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. It was the first for 2024 in the said underwater feature about 195 kilometers off Palawan province.

President’s directive

A PCG official, meanwhile, stressed the rotational deployment of the PCG and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the West Philippine Sea was ordered by President Marcos himself, meant to protect Filipino fisherfolk and food security and not to provoke or worsen tensions.

“The objective of the President is to make sure that government vessels will see to it that Filipino fishermen are able to fish here to support our food security,” said Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea.

He added, “Our objective is not to provoke anybody, not to escalate the tension in Bajo de Masinloc. Our objective here is to protect the Filipino fishermen, to make sure that Filipino fishermen can fish there.”

Tarriela made the remarks at the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City, a day after National Security Adviser Eduardo Año announced the PCG and BFAR’s ships will take turns in patrolling Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.

BFAR’s BRP Datu Tamblot has been deployed to the shoal since Feb. 14, along with its Cessna 208B aircraft or RP-1077 that flew from Clark, Pampanga.

Earlier, the PCG’s BRP Teresa Magbanua also patrolled the same waters from Feb. 1 to Feb. 9.

Tarriela added the shoal is a traditional fishing ground for fisherfolk from Zambales, Pangasinan, and other communities along Northern Luzon’s coast.

“Because of this, it is now the guidance of our President to have a rotational deployment between the PCG and the BFAR to maintain our presence in Bajo de Masinloc,” he said.

He conceded there are “diplomatic ways” to diffuse the tension in the West Philippine Sea dispute instead of going “head to head” for a conflict with China’s might.


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TAGS: Ayungin Shoal, BRP Sierra Madre, Chinese vessels, PCG

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