DFA verifying Chinese ship harassment of Filipino-crewed ship in West PH Sea

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Saturday, November 2, that it was looking into a report that a Chinese vessel harassed a Filipino-crewed commercial ship near Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea last September 30.

"We will verify the facts of the incident then relevant offices will make the appropriate recommendations," the DFA told reporters on Saturday.

What happened? In an exclusive Rappler report, Filipino ship captain Manolo Ebora said his ship, the Liberia-flagged Greek-owned crude oil tanker Green Aura was 6 nautical miles off Scarborough Shoal when it received a radio call from a nearby vessel which introduced itself as a Chinese "naval warship."

The Chinese ship ordered Green Aura to stay 10 nautical miles away from the shoal as it sailed northeast in the direction of Bolinao, Pangasinan. Ebora ignored the Chinese vessel's demand and decided to stay on the Green Aura's planned route to Longkou, China.

But several minutes later, the Chinese vessel started moving in the direction of the Green Aura's path to block its passage. Ebora radioed the Chinese ship to ask why his ship should alter its course, insisting on the right to innocent passage.

Ebora kept insisting on innocent passage until a stern voice replied. Identifying itself as the China Coast Guard, it claimed that the area was under the jurisdiction of China and that Ebora and his men "should keep away." The Chinese ship then tailed the Green Aura to drive it away.

Ebora, who has been a commercial ship captain for 15 years and is a Philippine Navy reservist with the rank of lieutenant commander, said the Chinese ship violated navigation rules, citing its position intending to cut the Green Aura in its course and then tailing it afterwards. Ebora also said the shoal was closest to the the Philippines.

Not the first time: China has wielded de facto control over Scarborough Shoal since 2012, after vessels from China and the Philippines had a tense stand-off for nearly two months. The incident prompted the Philippines to file its historic case against China at the Hague, whose ruling struck down China's expansive 9-dash line in the South China Sea and asserted the Philippines' rights in the West Philippine Sea.

The latest incident of harassment by Chinese vessels comes after a Chinese vessel rammed, sunk, and abandoned Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea last June. The incident put a spotlight on the Duterte administration's policy in the West Philippine Sea and tested President Rodrigo Duterte's warm ties with Beijing. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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