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Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef came from same port as ship that sank Gem-Ver â think tank
This April 13, 2021 photo released by the Philippine Coast Guard shows at least six Chinese vessels remain at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
PCG/Released

Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef came from same port as ship that sank Gem-Ver — think tank

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - April 22, 2021 - 9:25am

MANILA, Philippines — Chinese ships swarming Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea operate from the same port as the ship that sank a Philippine fishing boat two years ago, according to a think tank.

Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) identified the Chinese ships in the area based on photos and videos released by the Philippine Coast Guard.

AMTI identified the first two characters and the bow numbers of the ships from a photo taken during the coast guard's patrol on March 7.

This March 7, 2021 photo shows Chinese maritime militia ships moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
NTF-WPS via Philippine Coast Guard

Using commercial AIS database Marine Traffic in cross referencing, AMTI identified the ships as Yuemaobinyu 42881, 42882, 42883, 42885 and 42886.

It has the same name as the Chinese vessel that rammed into fishing boat Gem-Ver in Recto (Reed) Bank and left 22 Filipino fishermen floating at sea for hours before being rescued.

"In early 2019, the Yuemaobinyu 42212—so named because it operates from the same port as these five—rammed and sank the Philippine fishing vessel F/B Gem-Ver 1 at Reed Bank," the AMTI report read.

While the owner of the Chinese vessel had apologized, the 22 Filipino fishermen affected by the incident have yet to receive their compensation.

In an October 2019 report, AMTI said that Yuemaobinyu 42212 operates from Bohe Port where "fishing vessels are conscripted for paramilitary exercises in preparation for maritime combat."

Maritime militia

Analysis by Andrew Erickson and Ryan Martinson, both from the US Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute, showed that the remaining ships in Julian Felipe Reef operate from a Chinese district with an established maritime militia.

Two of the six Chinese vessels seen in the reef on March 27 have been identified as Yuexinhuiyu 60138 and 60139. The characters of their names indicate that they are registered at the Xinhui district of Guangdon's Jiangmen city.

This handout photo taken on March 27, 2021 and received from the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) via the Philippine Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on March 31, 2021 shows Chinese vessels anchored at Whitsun Reef, some 320 kilometres (175 nautical miles) west of Palawan Island in the South China Sea.
AFP/Philippine Communications Operations Office/National Task Force-West Philippine Sea

According to Martinson and Erickson's report on Foreign Policy, these two boats are both trawlers designed to drag nets at a slow speed and catch everything in their path.

"If 2021 is like 2019, Yuexinhuiyu 60138 and 60139 will take three or four trips to the Spratlys this year. Each will spend a total of about 280 days in these waters," Erickson and Martinson wrote.

The analysts further noted that Xinhui district has supported the Chinese People's Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) for at least two decades.

"Since Xinhui only has six Spratly boats, most if not all belong to the far seas militia detachment. This, of course, includes Yuexinhuiyu 60138 and 60139," they said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila has been consistent with its claim that the ships swarming Julian Felipe Reef are just ordinary fishing vessels.

Erickson and Martinson, however, noted that portions of China's fleet of fishing vessels in the Spratly Islands operate under the command of the PAFMM.

"Yet these vessels and their activities are but a small subset of China’s maritime gray zone operations, which the United States and its allies must follow and publicize more effectively in real time to get ahead of Beijing’s unrelenting effort to achieve below-radar gains," Erickson and Martinson said.

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