China gunboats harass RP vessel
- Jaime Laude () - March 4, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Two Chinese Navy gunboats reportedly harassed a vessel owned by the Department of Energy (DOE) that was conducting maritime research off the disputed Spratly Islands last Wednesday.

Armed Forces Western Command (Westcom) commander Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban confirmed that the Air Force deployed bombers and an Islander reconnaissance aircraft while the Navy dispatched three vessels to intercept the two Chinese vessels.

“But they did not catch the Chinese vessels that already left when the planes arrived. The DOE ship just resumed their research in the area,” Sabban said in a telephone interview.

Sabban said the incident occurred at around 9:30 a.m. in the vicinity of Reed Bank, 250 kilometers west of Palawan.

He said Reed Bank is well within Philippine territory and Navy gunboats were deployed to secure the DOE research vessel M/V Venture.

Reed Bank is within the country’s 320-kilometer exclusive economic zone, but the area is also being claimed by China and Vietnam.

This area is part of the Kalayaan Island Group that is being claimed by the Philippines in the disputed Spratlys.

The Spratly Islands are being claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

Initial exploration of the Reed Bank by the DOE revealed that the area contains about 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 440 million barrels of oil.

Sabban said two white Chinese gunboats with the markings No. 71 and No. 75 tried to drive away the DOE research vessel from Reed Bank.

The Navy and the Air Force reported that the two Chinese vessels conducted a side-by-side maneuver, virtually “sandwiching” the DOE research vessel, prompting its alarmed personnel to radio for help.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also received a report that a Chinese vessel harassed a DOE ship.

PCG spokesman Lieutenant Commander Arman Balilo said that information reaching their office showed that sometime last Wednesday a Chinese vessel reportedly harassed the M/V Venture that was conducting a seismic survey in the area.

The PCG also deployed the unit’s Islander reconnaissance plane to Puerto Princesa City in Palawan to assist the DOE ship.

When asked if this was the first reported incident of harassment involving a Chinese vessel in the Spratlys area, Balilo admitted that this might have been the first case in recent years. With Evelyn Macairan

AIR FORCE ARMED FORCES WESTERN COMMAND CHINA AND VIETNAM CHINESE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY DOE JUANCHO SABBAN REED BANK SABBAN SPRATLY ISLANDS V VENTURE
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