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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine said over 135 Chinese Maritime Militia vessels have “swarmed” the area of Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, some 175 nautical miles off the coast of Bataraza, Palawan.
Photos and videos released by the Philippine Coast Guard on Sunday, December 3, show several groups of Chinese Maritime Mitilia ships moored beside each other – a move analysts refer to a “rafting,” or when vessels anchor together to create a temporary floating outpost out at sea.
It’s consider among the “gray zone tactics,” or actions short of armed conflict, that China employs in attempting to dominate in the South China Sea.
In response, the Philippine deployed two 44-meter vessels, the PCG’s BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan on Saturday, December 2, to conduct patrols in the area.
“No response was made to the radio challenges issued by the PCG to the CMM vessels which is now estimated to have grown to more than 135 vessels dispersed and scattered within Julian Felipe Reef,” said the PCG in a December 3 statement.
PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said 111 of the CMM had first been monitored swarming the area on November 13. The number steadily increased, based on the monitoring of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
National Security Adviser and National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea chair Eduardo Año ordered the maritime patrol to “challenge and document the illegal presence of the CMM in Julian Felipe Reef.”
The CMM is China’s fishing fleet that also serves as an augmenting force for the Chinese Coast Guard and China’s navy. Hundreds of these vessels are constantly in the West Philippine Sea, or part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Julian Felipe Reef, also known as Whitsun Reef, is well within the Philippine EEZ. Neither China nor the Philippines currently occupies the reef, but it is claimed by both countries, as well as by Vietnam.
“The PCG maintains its unwavering commitment to safeguarding maritime security, safety and the marine environment in the course of protecting the territorial integrity, sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international laws including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 2016 Arbitral Award and Philippine domestic laws,” said the PCG. – Rappler.com