PCG sends vessel to Philippine Rise after reports of Chinese vessels 'loitering'

Ian Laqui - Philstar.com
PCG sends vessel to Philippine Rise after reports of Chinese vessels 'loitering'
Philippine coast guard patrol boat Gabriela Silang (L) and US coast guard ship Stratton (R) take part in a maritime exercise with Japan in the South China Sea off Mariveles, Bataan province on June 6, 2023.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — An offshore patrol vessel by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has been deployed to the Philippine Rise on Monday in response to reported sightings of Chinese research vessels in the area.

Formerly identified as Benham Rise, the Philippine Rise is an underwater plateau situated along the northeastern seaboard of the country, which is believed to be rich in oil, gas and marine resources.

In a statement, the PCG said the BRP Gabriela Silang is set for a two-week mission in the Philippine Rise and Batanes starting March 4.

"We will also check the reported Chinese research vessels in Benham Rise," the PCG said, quoting Coast Guard Rear Adm. Armando Balilo.

He also said that the coast guard vessel will patrol nearby waters to enhance maritime domain awareness and monitor local fishermen, indicating an increased PCG presence in northern Luzon.

Aerial assets of the PCG, through the Coast Guard Aviation Force, are also on standby for possible aerial surveillance.

On March 1, Ray Powell, a former US Air Force official and ex-Defense Attaché, flagged the presence of two Chinese research vessels “loitering” in the northeast of the Philippine Rise.

The research vessels, according to Powell, are Haiyang Dizhi Liuhao and Haiyang Dizhi Shihao which are seen to be sailing between Basco, Batanes and islands near the main Luzon island.

In September last year, at least three Chinese survey ships in the eastern part of the Philippine Sea, near the Philippine Rise, have also been seen.

Similar to other contested areas in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine Rise falls within the nation's exclusive economic zone.

In 2012, the United Nations recognized the underwater plateau as belonging to the continental shelf of the Philippines.

China's Foreign Ministry initially said the Philippines could not claim Benham Rise even with UN approval. They later on changed their stance, acknowledging and respecting the Philippines' rights over the continental shelf in Benham Rise.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017 signed an executive order renaming Benham Rise to Philippine Rise, following the presence of Chinese research vessels conducting surveys in the area.

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