AFP reports swarming of more than 50 Chinese vessels in West Philippine Sea

AFP reports swarming of more than 50 Chinese vessels in West Philippine Sea
More than 50 Chinese vessels swarm the vicinity of Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, July 7.
AFP Wescom

MANILA, Philippines — More than 50 Chinese vessels have reportedly swarmed the vicinity of Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea since last week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said based on its recent air patrols.

The Western Command (Wescom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spotted during its air patrol on June 30 at least 48 Chinese fishing vessels near Iroquois Reef, south of oil- and gas-rich Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

Meanwhile, the AFP has also detected five Chinese Coast Guard and People's Liberation Army Navy vessels near Sabina Shoal.

These were spotted during multiple flights over Iroquois Reef by pilots aboard NV312, a Britten Norman Islander light patrol aircraft of the Philippine Navy. 

The aircraft pilots were quoted in an AFP Wescom statement saying that the "swarming" of Chinese fishing vessels is "quite visible from the air." 

The Chinese fishing vessels also appeared to be "anchored in groups of five to seven and no fishing activities were noticed,” the Wescom statement read. 

"They seem to just loiter in the area," Lieutenant Karla Andres, co-pilot of NV312 said.

Sign of China's intentions

The increased presence of Chinese fishing vessels and members of its coast guard signal “an alarming concern about China's intentions and actions within these disputed waters,” Wescom said in its statement.

The military's observed increase in the number of Chinese vessels will be detailed in a report that would become the basis for another potential diplomatic protest against China, the unified command in charge added.

"Detailed reports will be forwarded to higher authorities as a crucial step that aims to facilitate the potential filing of a diplomatic protest, reinforcing our commitment to safeguarding Philippine sovereignty and territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea," Wescom said.

“Recto Bank is a vital feature within the Philippine’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and China must cease its swarming of vessels to respect our sovereign rights,” said AFP Wescom spokesperson Ariel Coloma.

A collision between a Chinese vessel and a Filipino boat near Recto Bank in 2019 led to the sinking of the Filipino vessel. The Chinese boat reportedly did not rescue the 22 Filipino crew members who were left to “the mercy of the elements,” as described by then-Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. — Cristina Chi

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