MANILA — A US-based research organization has disclosed that Chinese ships shadowed and "interfered" with a Philippine government vessel doing research in the West Philippine Sea.
In an article titled "Three Rounds of Coercion" published May 26, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said that China Coast Guard (CCG) and militia ships intercepted a research vessel of the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) at the Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Ayungin Shoal, on April 21.
AMTI reported that the BFAR vessel "drew the attention" of a CCG vessel, prompting the latter to pursue the Filipino vessel "at extremely close distances, coming as close as 100 meters in multiple distances."
The CCG continued pursuing the BFAR vessel, with another CCG vessel and two Hainan-based militia vessels closing in from the north.
"Under pressure, the DA BFAR turned around 12.7 nautical miles from Second Thomas Shoal. It retreated 13 nautical miles east before heading north toward Philippine-occupied Nanshan Island, tailed by the [China Coast Guard]," AMTI said.
"That underwater feature [Ayungin Shoal] is occupied by the Philippines and was ruled part of the Philippine EEZ and continental shelf in 2016," the organization added.
Later that day, a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, BRP Cape Engaño, was also harassed by Chinese vessels in the same area, AMTI said.
The think tank said the Ayungin Shoal case was one of 3 similar incidents that occurred in April this year.
AMTI said the 3 incidents “demonstrate Beijing’s determination to control maritime activity within the nine-dash line, and to create a high risk of collisions at sea to do so.”
Two other incidents were previously reported by the media, involving a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and a Taiwanese vessel on April 6 while undertaking survey of undersea fault lines off Ilocos Sur.
The other occurred on April 4 at the vicinity of Reed Bank of Recto Bank off Palawan, involving two Norwegian ships that were hired by the Philippine government to conduct oil exploration in the area.
Sought for comment on the incidents, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that they "have not received any reports of such harassment."
Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong said his department has yet to receive official report from the Armed Forces.
Andolong said that the DND, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) swiftly act on such cases once they are documented.
“We will not allow this to just pass. But of course, we have to balance it (government response). As what Secretary Lorenzana said before, the key here is managing the situation, prevent it from escalating,” said Andolong.
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