Floating barrier spotted in Bajo de Masinloc

Mark Ernest Villeza - The Philippine Star
Floating barrier spotted in Bajo de Masinloc
The Chinese Coast Guard has installed a floating barrier in the southern portion of Bajo de Masinloc, a traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales.
Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines — Floating barriers have reappeared around Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, apparently placed by the Chinese to keep Filipino fishing boats and support vessels out of the rich fishing grounds, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said yesterday.

At a news forum, PCG spokesman Jay Tarriela said they spotted the barriers, along with two Chinese coast guard (CCG) vessels, inside the shoal last Feb.15.

He also reported the presence of speedboats on standby near the CCG ships, which appeared to be guarding the floating barriers.

“We can see that there is a floating barrier again at the mouth of Bajo de Masinloc, or the southeast entrance to Bajo de Masinloc,” Tarriela said referring to the shoal by its local name.

Tarriela presented satellite images indicating a pattern of Chinese activity of fencing off the area with floating barriers whenever vessels from the PCG or the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) arrive.

He noted there were no floating barriers in the area the last time they conducted monitoring on Feb. 8 to 13. The reappearance of the floating barrier coincided with the deployment of BFAR vessel in the shoal, he said.

He also reported the presence o­­f People’s Liberation Army-Navy ships some 20 nautical miles from the shoal.

“These vessels were observed challenging BFAR aircraft, contributing to heightened tensions in the area,” Tarriela pointed out.

The last time the PCG discovered floating barriers in the area was on Sept. 22, 2023, during a maritime patrol by BRP Datu Bankaw.

He said two Chinese coast guard vessels were responsible for blocking BFAR and PCG vessels from entering the area.

There were also documented cases of Chinese maritime militia boats engaging Filipino vessels in dangerous maneuvers and radio challenges, according to Tarriela.

Notably, a CCG drone originating from one of the Chinese coast guard ships was observed flying over the shoal

“For the radio challenges that we received from the CCG, there were 25 times and all of those 25 instances that we were challenged to radio the commanding officer and the pilot of the aircraft also responded and challenged the presence of these Chinese maritime forces as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, BFAR spokesman Nazario Briguera said that BRP Datu Tamblot, which began its patrol around Panatag Shoal on Feb. 14, was able to provide food, medicine and other provisions to Filipino fishers operating in the vicinity.

He reported that 21 commercial boats received 14,000 liters of diesel fuel and 60 liters of motor oil.

Briguera reiterated BFAR’s commitment to support Filipino fishers and ensure the nation’s food security.

He also emphasized the agency’s opposition to any foreign vessels, including those from China, illegally operating in Philippine territorial waters and hindering the sustainable development of marine resources.

“The agency strongly opposes any foreign ship such as Chinese ships that interfere in our territory to hinder the natural cultivation of our waters,” he said.

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