MANILA (UPDATE) — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Wednesday confirmed the presence of Chinese vessels within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), more than a week since the laser incident that has triggered new tensions between the two countries.
The PCG came by the visual confirmation during its conduct of a Maritime Domain Awareness flight over Ayungin Shoal and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, both within the Philippines' EEZ.
Around 26 suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels were anchored in and around the vicinity of the shoal, according to the PCG.
In a statement, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said that as the PCG Cessna Caravan 2081 aircraft approached the airspace over Sabina Shoal, it received radio challenges, both in English and Chinese, from the CCG.
The PCG aircraft then issued its own radio challenge, emphasizing that it was conducting an MDA flight within the airspace over the country’s EEZ.
As the PCG approached 10 nautical miles off Ayungin Shoal, it once again received an “unclear” radio challenge from the CCG, the NTF-WPS added.
The PCG responded by ordering the CCG to leave the area immediately.
Over Ayungin, the PCG said it observed at least 4 Chinese militia vessels anchored in the area.
Ayungin Shoal is located some 100 nautical miles off Palawan but is also near Mischief Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea reportedly occupied by China.
The NTF-WPS noted, throughout the MDA flight, the PCG continued to issue radio challenges to both CCG vessels and suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels in the areas around Ayungin Shoal and Sabina Shoal.
PCG pilots also relayed their patrol data and observations to Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel stationed onboard BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin.
The NTF-WPS, citing data from the PCG, said CCG vessel 5205, which pointed a laser at BRP Malapascua on February 8, departed the Kalayaan Group of Islands en route to Hainan, China. Another CCG vessel, CCG 5304, continued to maintain its presence in Ayungin Shoal.
The confirmed presence of the Chinese ships comes a week after the Philippines protested China's flashing of military-grade laser on its coast guard vessel near the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), which is within the Southeast Asian country's EEZ as provided for by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and affirmed by the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
China denied it used a "military-grade" laser, a claim that the PCG vehemently rejected.
Figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs show that as of Feb. 17, the Philippines has filed 76 diplomatic protests under the Marcos, Jr. administration, including on the recent laser pointing incident that was filed on Feb. 14.
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