March 28, 2022
MANILA — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday reported another “close distance maneuvering” by a vessel of the China Coast Guard (CCG) during a patrol in the West Philippine Sea early this month.
In a statement the PCG said the incident occurred on March 2, while one of its ships, the BRP Malabrigo (MRRV-4402), was patrolling the area of Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.
The Chinese ship “with bow No. 3305… conducted a close distance maneuvering of approximately 21 yards toward BRP Malabrigo,” the PCG said, adding that this constrained the maneuvering space of its vessel, which was a violation of the 1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.
According to PCG Commandant Adm. Artemio Abu, this was the fourth such incident involving CCG ships at Bajo de Masinloc.
“The behavior of the involved CCG vessels increased the risk of collision with four of our capital ships. Hence, we immediately coordinated with the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to address this issue through rules-based and peaceful approaches,” Abu said.
The DFA and the Chinese Embassy in Manila have yet to comment on the latest “close distance maneuvering” incident. It was yet unclear whether the Philippines had lodged a diplomatic protest over the incident.
On May 19, 2021, PCG-manned Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel MCS-3005 reported the first incident of close distance maneuvering involving a CCG ship with bow No. 3301.
Barely a month after, the second and third incidents were reported on two consecutive days, June 1 and June 2.
The PCG at that time was conducting capability enhancement exercises, and two CCG ships with bow numbers 3301 and 3103 were reported maneuvering close to the BRP Capones (MRRV-4404) and BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) of the PCG.
Abu said: “We are fully aware of dangerous situations at sea, but these will not stop our deployment of assets and personnel [at] Bajo de Masinloc, Philippine Rise, and other parts of the country’s [370-km] exclusive economic zone (EEZ).”
“We will continue to work silently and diligently for we are serving Filipino fishermen at sea. As long as they feel safe seeing us during their fishing operations, we know that we are doing our job well,” he added.
Harassed, driven away
Scarborough Shoal is a triangle-shaped chain of reefs and islands around a 150-kilometer-wide lagoon, which serves as a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen as it is situated within the country’s EEZ.
The fishermen, many of them from the province of Zambales, were previously harassed or driven away by the CCG.
But according to the PCG, as many as 45 Filipino fishing boats have been able to return to that area, even amid the presence of the Chinese ships.
The PCG happened to be conducting “intensified” maritime operations there from Feb. 28 to March 5.
China, which has sweeping claims in nearly all of the West Philippine Sea, seized control of the shoal in 2012, prompting the country to seek arbitration.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s sweeping claims. But China continues to disregard the ruling.
The DFA had recently summoned China’s ambassador over the presence at the Sulu Sea of an electronic reconnaissance ship belonging to the People’s Liberation Army-Navy.
The ship was reported to have lingered in the area from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1.