MANILA, Philippines - A Navy surveillance plane monitoring the activities of Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed Spratly Islands has spotted a Chinese landing ship in Subi Reef (Zamora Reef), an area only 12 nautical miles from the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island.
The Chinese troop and logistics ship, a Yuting class with bow No. 934, is armed with three heavy guns, built-in cranes, and a helipad.
The vessel was photographed by a Navy surveillance plane deployed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (Wescom) in Palawan last Tuesday.
The Chinese ship is anchored at the Chinese-occupied Subi Reef, close to Pag-asa Island, which is occupied by Filipino troops and civilians and is part of the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan.
“We are doing our best with what we have,” Wescom spokesman Lt. Col. Niel Estrella said of their surveillance and monitoring operations on the current security development in the Spratlys.
Estrella said that monitoring operations yesterday were hampered by bad weather in the area.
Wescom commander Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban had intensified air and maritime patrols in the disputed region in response to the recent grounding of a Chinese frigate within the waters of Palawan, particularly in the vicinity of Hasa-Hasa Shoal (Half Moon Shoal), followed by China’s launching of one of the biggest fishing expeditions in the disputed region.
Sabban said that Hasa-Hasa Shoal is part of Palawan waters and the area is outside of the disputed Spratlys.
Aside from China’s landing ship near the already heavily fortified Subi Reef, Wescom is currently monitoring the activities of the Chinese fishing fleet in Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef).
Latest reports said 29 Chinese fishing vessels, a Chinese maritime surveillance ship, and a merchant vessel were photographed anchored at Kagitingan Reef.
In nearby Union Reef, which is occupied by Vietnamese forces, a Wescom surveillance plane also monitored a lone Vietnamese fishing boat near dozens of Chinese fishing vessels in the area.
Union Reef as well as other islets and reefs in the area are within the hexagon area composed of 95 islands, cays, shoals and reefs under Kalayaan town based in Pag-asa Island, as per Presidential Decree 1596 issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos, that led to the creation of an island municipality in the region.
AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos has admitted that in the absence of a credible territorial capability, the military’s action is confined only to monitoring the Chinese aggressive behavior in the contested waters in the West Philippine Sea.
He said the civilian leadership is addressing the rest of the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.