30 Chinese vessels, 1 warship sighted in Palawan

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez confirmed on Tuesday, May 21, that around 30 Chinese fishing vessels, including 3 Chinese government ships, have been sighted for more than a week at Ayungin Shoal, part of the Kalayaan Island Group off Palawan.

Hernandez said the DFA has already filed a protest with the Chinese Embassy in Manila on May 10 over “the provocative and illegal presence” of the Chinese government ships, two China Marine Surveillance (CMS) ships and one warship, around the shoal.

“The Philippine calls on China to respect the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines over its continental shelf including the waters around the [Ayungin] shoal,” Hernandez said.

The incident is the latest flare-up of tensions between the two countries over competing territorial claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

In 2012, at least 10 Chinese ships were monitored by the Philippine Navy's flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), when it was deployed at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal for maritime patrol in the area.

‘Harassing vessels’

Hernandez reported that the Chinese fishing vessels have been “going around” the shoal for more than a week, which triggered the DFA to file a protest to respect sovereign rights over the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“China's interference with the sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea is a violation of international law particularly United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the United Nations charter and the DOC," Hernandez said.

On Friday, May 17, Kalayaan Island Group Mayor Joel Bito-onon disclosed that two foreign vessels he believed were owned by the Chinese harassed him early Wednesday morning, May 15.

Bito-onon recalled that while they were sailing near Ayungin, the two vessels followed them with strong searchlights, with one only 30 meters away from them.

Ayungin Shoal is located 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and constitutes part of the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles continental shelf provided under UNCLOS.

“Ayungin Shoal is an integral part of our national territory,” Hernandez said. – Rappler.com