Chinese ships spotted in Julian Felipe Reef now elsewhere in Philippine EEZ — report

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Chinese ships spotted in Julian Felipe Reef now elsewhere in Philippine EEZ � report
In this May 18, 2021 satellite photo, 24 ships can be seen near Gaven South Reef in the Philippine part of Tizard Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
Simularity via European Space Agency

MANILA, Philippines — While there are no more Chinese ships left in the vicinity of Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, these vessels still remain in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea, according to a report by a US-based geospatial imagery and data analysis company .

A few months ago, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea reported that 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be maritime militia, have been spotted at Julian Felipe Reef.

According to a report released by US-based Simularity, approximately 120 of these Chinese fishing ships are still within the country's EEZ, located on the Philippine side of the Tizard Bank in the Spratly Islands.

Satellite images released by Simularity dated April 28 showed that there were approximately 11 ships in Julian Felipe Reef, 158 ships near McKennan (Hughes) Reef and 87 ships near Burgos (Gaven) Reef.

At least 190 ships left Julian Felipe Reef between March 24 and April 28 while more than 130 ships left McKennan Reef between April 28 and May 13.

While Chinese ships withdrew from Julian Felipe Reef and McKennan Reef, approximately 180 ships arrived in Burgos Reef between March 4 and May 18.

"As of May 13, 2021, there were no ships at [Julian Felipe] Reef," Simularity said.

However, 234 Chinese ships have been spotted on Burgos Reef as of May 18.

"It is likely that the majority of those ships remained in Union Banks near [McKennan] Reef in April, and then left [McKennan] Reef for [Burgos] Reef in Tizard Bank in early May" the report read.

Julian Felipe and McKennan Reefs are part of a bigger group of features called Union Banks in the Spratly Islands.

Simularity also reported that 261 ships, majority of which resemble the vessels that swarmed Julian Felipe Reef, have been sighted in the mentioned areas in the Spratlys from May 13 to May 18.

"Assuming some of these ships may be Coast Guard, and a few might not be Chinese, we estimate that there are approximately 250 Chinese fishing ships in these contested areas now," the report read.

In its May 12 report, the NTF-WPS confirmed that 287 Chinese maritime militia ships have been located over various features in the West Philippine Sea, both within and outside Philippine EEZ.

Chinese coast guard ships have also been spotted in several areas in the West Philippine Sea in late April, which the NTF-WPS labelled as incursions.

The Department of Foreign Affairs had filed several protests over the swarming of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea in addition to daily diplomatic protests for every day that China refuses to withdraw its ships from Julian Felipe Reef. — Satellite images from Simularity via European Space Agency

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