Philippines-China relations

Philippines shoos away Chinese ships in Sabina Shoal

Jairo Bolledo

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Philippines shoos away Chinese ships in Sabina Shoal

CHALLENGED. Photos of the Philippine Coast Guard ship challenging through radio communication the Chinese maritime militia vessels spotted in Sabina Shoal near Palawan.

Photo by PCG

The Chinese ships leave Sabina Shoal after Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessels challenge them, says the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea

Philippine ships shooed away Chinese maritime militias (CMM) vessels in Sabina (Escoda) Shoal near Palawan in the West Philippine Sea on at least two occasions in late April.

National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) reported late night Tuesday, May 4, that a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship two Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels conducted maritime patrols in Sabina Shoal, located 130 nautical miles west of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, on April 27.

When the Philippine ships arrived in the shoal, they spotted seven CMM ships moored in stationary linear formation. Philippine authorities issued a series of challenges to warn the Chinese ships that were illegally roaming Philippine waters.

“This is Philippine Coast Guard BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409). You are within Philippine exclusive economic zone. You are requested to provide the following: name of vessel, intention, last and next port of call on Channel 16,” PCG ship personnel said in the radio communication, according to the task force.

The Chinese ships initially did not respond. After 20 minutes, the Philippine ships decided to approach the Chinese ships, which immediately dispersed and left the shoal, according to NTF-WPS.

Two days later, on April 29, the PCG’s BRP Cabra returned to Sabina Shoal and once again spotted five CMM vessels. This time, the Chinese ships immediately left the shoal upon the arrival of the PCG ship.

Philippines shoos away Chinese ships in Sabina Shoal

On April 26 – a day before the Chinese ships were spotted in Sabina Shoal – China said the Philippines should stop its maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea because it causes tension in the area. The Philippines responded with a diplomatic protest, while the Department of National Defense said China is the one “encroaching and should desist and leave.”

At the time, the Philippines noted the “illegal presence” of three Chinese Coast Guard vessels in Bajo de Masinloc, one CCG vessel in waters in the munipality of Kalayaan, and one CCG vessel in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).

Under the 1982 United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Philippines has sovereign rights over features located within its exclusive economic zone or 12 to 200 nautical miles from the baseline of its territorial waters. 

This was reaffirmed by the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Netherlands, which favored all the claims of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea. 

The task force also said it will continue its inter-agency maritime patrols through PCG, BFAR, the Philippine National Police Maritime Group, and assets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. 

It was not the first time that Chinese ships were spotted in Sabina Shoal. In January 2012, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs summoned China’s charge d’affaires to protest the presence of Chinese ships in the shoal on December 11 and 12, 2011. 

Retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio earlier had said that President Rodrigo Duterte committed “grand estafa” by “fooling the Filipino people big time” over his campaign promise that he will fight for the West Philippine Sea. Duterte has kept a defeatist attitude when it comes to insisting on the Philippines’ 2016 win against China. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.