Chinese ships remain in Julian Felipe Reef, disperse to other West Philippine Sea areas

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Chinese ships remain in Julian Felipe Reef, disperse to other West Philippine Sea areas
This handout satellite imagery taken on March 23, 2021 and received on March 25 from Maxar Technologies shows Chinese vessels anchored at the Whitsun Reef, around 320 kilometres (175 nautical miles) west of Bataraza in Palawan in the South China Sea. Chinese vessels gathered near a disputed reef in the South China Sea are "fishing boats" sheltering from poor weather, the foreign ministry said March 22, a day after the Philippines described their presence as an incursion.
AFP / Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies, Handout

MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese fleet suspected to be part of China's maritime militia remains in Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef while some ships have been dispersed to other areas in the West Philippine Sea, according to the government.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Thursday confirmed that at least 44 Chinese maritime militia vessels remain moored, anchored and stationary at Julian Felipe Reef as of March 29.

The task force initially reported that 220 Chinese boats have been recorded in the area on March 7.

While the number of ships in Julian Felipe Reef decreased, the remaining part of the Chinese fleet has scattered in other features in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is under the jurisdiction of Palawan.

The NTF-WPS also reported that 115 Chinese militia ships have been located in Chigua (Kennan) Reef and 45 vessels in Pag-asa (Thitu) Island.

Another 50 vessels were dispersed in China's "big three" artificial islands — Panganiban (Mischief), Kagitingan (Fiery) and Zamora (Subi) Reefs.

Four vessels from China's People's Liberation Army Navy have also been spotted on Panganiban Reef, where Beijing appears to plan to install more buildings based on satellite images released in February.

Opposing the Chinese Embassy's earlier claim that the ships in Julian Felipe Reef were just "fishing vessels taking shelter," the NTF-WPS stood by its position that these are maritime militia.

"Their build-up and massing formation from Julian Felipe Reef to other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group is hazardous to navigation and safety of life at sea," the NTF-WPS said.

It added that the Chinese ships may be doing illicit activities at night and may cause irreparable damage to the marine environment in the area.

"Their swarming also poses a threat to the peaceful exercise of sovereign rights of the Philippines in its EEZ," the task force said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had filed a diplomatic protest following the report on the presence of Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines have since conducted three rounds of routine aerial and maritime sovereignty patrol missions in the area.

World powers such as the United States, European Union, Australia, Japan, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand have expressed support for the Philippines, calling on China to adhere to rules-based order consistent with international law, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea.




As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 28, 2022 - 10:29am

The United States Navy's Nimitz-class nuclear powered supercarrier USS John C. Stennis continues underway in the South China Sea.

The US Pacific Command just reported that it has received "cargo" from support ship USNS Rainier in the disputed waters.

February 28, 2022 - 10:29am

Around 68 foreign vessels were near Julian Felipe Reef and 39 near Union Banks on February 17, satellite image show.

Liz Derr, CEO of the geospatial data provider Simularity, says this at a Stratebase ADR-hosted conference.

In March 2021, over 200 Chinese vessels were sighted near the reef.  — report from News5/Marianne Enriquez

November 22, 2021 - 3:54pm

President Rodrigo Duterte condemns the latest flare-up in the disputed South China Sea after Chinese coastguard ships fired water cannon at Filipino boats. 

"We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments," Duterte tells the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, using the Filipino name for the shoal. 

"This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership." — AFP

November 22, 2021 - 8:41am

The European Union expresses "strong opposition" against China's unilateral actions in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

This statement comes after Chinese coast guard ships blocked and water cannoned Philippine boats transporting supplies to military personnel stationed at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

"In this context, the European Union recalls the Arbitration Award rendered under UNCLOS on 12 July 2016, which found that Second Thomas Shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf," the EU says in a statement.

July 14, 2021 - 8:49am

Geospatial imagery and analysis firm Simularity stands behind its report on ships dumping raw sewage in the West Philippine Sea, adding a stock photo used in its presentation was not used in its analysis.

"We welcome the news that Philippine agencies are validating our research and results. It is all reproducible, based on publicly available sources, well understood algorithms, and the approach and interpretation are validated by readily available scientific papers, links to which you can find in our report," it says.

July 13, 2021 - 2:44pm

The Department of Environemnt and Natural Resources says it will coordinate with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of National Defense "on the authenticity of the allegation" that Chinese ships have been dumping raw waste in areas of the West Philippine Sea, which satellite imaging firm Simularity said has been causing damage to coral reefs in the Spratlys.

"After that, we will be seeking for the attention of the Chinese government through our Department of Foreign Affairs," Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, DENR spokesperson, says.

"We will also validate if indeed these are Chinese vessels," he also says.

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