MANILA - At least 240 Chinese ships were found in various parts of the West Philippine Sea, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said Tuesday as it denounced the continuous swarming of Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In a statement, the NTF-WPS said its latest sovereignty patrols observed an estimated 240 Chinese vessels lingering in the EEZ.
The Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported the presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels in the territorial waters of the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan and the Philippine EEZ.
A total of 136 Chinese vessels were spotted at Burgos (Gaven) Reef, along with the following:
- 9 vessels at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef
- 65 at Chigua (McKennan) Reef
- 6 at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef
- 3 at Zamora (Subi) Reef
- 4 at the Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands
- 1 at Likas (West York) Island
- 5 at Kota (Loaita) Island
- 11 at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal
"These 240 CMM vessels, now dispersed at the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Pag-asa Islands, are about sixty (60) meters in length. A minimum estimate that each can catch one (1) ton of fish amounts to a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day that the massed Chinese fishing vessels remain in the West Philippine Sea. These acts fall under illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF)," the NTF-WPS said.
An earlier patrol by the Philippine Coast Guard also found Chinese poachers illegally harvesting giant clams in the waters of Pag-asa Islands. The said poachers immediately left the area when approached by the Coast Guard.
"This act is a blatant violation of Philippine fisheries and wildlife laws, and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)," NTF-WPS said.
Also said spotted during the patrols were Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels: 2 Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban Reef, 1 corvette-class warship at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, and 1 navy tugboat at Zamora Reef. Two Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels were also seen in the waters of Pag-asa Islands.
Additional monitoring of AFP reported 2 PLAN, 3 CCG, and 10 Chinese maritime militia vessels in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough) shoal.
"All these warships of the PLA Navy contribute to the militarization of the area," NTF-WPS said.
The NTF-WPS likewise said it views with "serious alarm" recent reports that a civilian vessel carrying a local news crew was followed and shadowed by a CCG vessel and an armed Houbei class missile warship at it traveled from the vicinity of Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal to the coast of Palawan.
"The incident is now under investigation," the task force said.
The NTF-WPS said the continuous swarming of Chinese vessels in Philippine waters is "prejudicial to the peace and security of the region" and is a threat to the safety of navigation and life at sea.
"The continuous swarming of Chinese vessels poses a threat to the safety of navigation, safety of life at sea, and impedes the exclusive right of Filipinos to benefit from the marine wealth in the EEZ," NTF-WPS said.
"The Philippine government reiterates its demand upon China to withdraw all its vessels from the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ," it added, as it called on China to respect Philippine sovereignty.
"In keeping with its role as a development partner, China should take the Philippine representations seriously and respect Philippine sovereignty, rights and interests in consonance with the further strengthening of Philippine-China bilateral relations," it also said.
The Philippines on Tuesday said it summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian on Monday over the "illegal lingering presence" of China's maritime militia fleet in Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it demanded the withdrawal of Chinese ships in the waters, the country's EEZ.
China lays expansive claims over the waters despite a July 2016 UN tribunal invalidating it.
Chinese diplomats earlier said the boats anchored near the reef - which numbered more than 200 when it was first sighted on March 7 - were sheltering from rough seas and that no militia were aboard.