Illegal Chinese dredging vessel spotted by PCG was in Zambales in 2019 — Bayan Muna

Illegal Chinese dredging vessel spotted by PCG was in Zambales in 2019 � Bayan Muna
The Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Customs spotted an illegal and unauthorized Chinese dredging ship in the vicinity of Orion Point, Bataan on Wednesday.
PCG / Released

MANILA, Philippines — The unauthorized Chinese-owned dredging vessel caught by the Philippine Coast Guard within the vicinity of Bataan was also in Zambales two years ago, members of the Bayan Muna party-list said.

The coast guard earlier this week said it located the vessel, Zhonhai 68, at 11 a.m. on Wednesday while conducting its maritime security patrol. "Upon boarding, the joint operatives discovered the automatic identification system (AIS) transponder of said vessel was turned off and its two Cambodian crew members aboard failed to present proper documents."

Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares in a statement said he personally saw the dredger as early as 2019. "When we filmed our documentary on the West [Philippine] Sea on February 16, 2019, we observed at least three (3) Chinese dredging ships anchored offshore in Masinloc, Zambales, and, Zhonhai 68 was among them."

"I personally rode a bangka to get near and see the ships for myself. Fishermen also sent me pictures of quarrying ships with Chinese crews in Cabangan, Zambales," he added.

According to the PCG, the Bureau of Customs office in Aparri, Cagayan granted departure clearance to the Chinese vessel more than a year ago, making its presence at the vicinity illegal and authorized.

"Our sources from Zambales are also saying that dredging had continued even in 2020. The question is why is the government allowing China to mine and destroy our shorelines?" he said.

Gov't urged: Probe 'coordinated' dredging activities by Chinese ships in WPS

Meanwhile, House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) said the "apparent coordinated illegal dredging operations by the Chinese must be investigated," citing "reports that these dredged materials are also being used in the creation of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea."

"Since 2017, Chinese dredging ships [have] been sighted in Aklan, Lobo, Batangas, in Masinloc and Cabangan, Zambales, in Cagayan and now Bataan, apparently conducting massive black sand mining operations and putting coastal communities at risk," he also said.

Colmenares added: "It seems China has become more confident of government support and is now looking at other areas to mine like Bataan."

"They already took over the ocean in the West [Philippine] Sea, now they're taking our coast and bringing it to China or are using it to make an artificial island," he also said in Filipino.

"Dapat na maimbestigahan at mapigil ito (This must be investigated and stopped)."

China recently passed a law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels within areas Beijing considers its "territorial waters," including its sweeping claim over the South China Sea which overlaps with the West Philippine Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier this week protested Beijing's new law, which also allows the Chinese coast guard to demolish other countries' structures on Chinese-claimed reefs.

Shortly after the Philippines filed its protest, the US reaffirmed its commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty and its rejection of Beijing's excessive claims in the South China Sea.

RELATED: 'Clear message' needed on China law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign ships — expert

— Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from Patricia Viray 

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