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MANILA, Philippines – At least nine Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) ships and one China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel remain inside and within the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal, a feature some 105 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan, Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said Thursday, December 14.
Of the nine CMM ships, five are inside the lagoon of the shoal, while four are outside. Another CCG vessel was monitored just outside the shoal, he added.
The crew of the LS57 or the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II ship that serves as an outpost in the shoal, sends troops aboard rubber boats to “non-confrontationally drive away” the Chinese vessels. These attempts are ignored, said Carlos.
“We will just properly document their presence there and recommend filing of diplomatic protest,” he added.
Typically, said Carlos, between one to three CMM ships and at least 1 CCG vessel are in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal at all times.
China claims Ayungin as theirs, despite it being well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China claims most of the South China Sea, despite a 2016 Arbitral Award saying this was unlawful.
Ayungin is among the flashpoints between Philippines and Chinese maritime forces. Tension in the waterway reaches fever pitch when the Philippines sends resupply and rotation missions to the BRP Sierra Madre, where a handful of soldiers are stationed months at a time.
The most recent resupply mission on December 10 saw the CCG using blasting water cannons against supply boats contracted by the military and even on a PCG vessel.
Carlos and AFP chief General Romeo Brawner Jr., were on board one of the resupply vessels, witnessing Chinese harassment firsthand.
The Philippines has lodged diplomatic protests over the December 10 incident, as well as the similar use of water cannons against bureau of fisheries ships in Bajo de Masinloc, another feature within Philippine EEZ off the coast of Zambales.
It was the December 10 harassment in Ayungin Shoal – and the threat of CCG ships turning their attention onto them – that prompted a civilian-led mission to the features in the West Philippine Sea to turn around. – Rappler.com