China ‘monster’ ship intrudes Philippine waters

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
China �monster� ship intrudes Philippine waters
Photo shows the 165-meter China Coast Guard ship 5901, known as ‘the Monster’ for its size, which joined CCG ship 5203 during a brief intrusive patrol into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone west of Panatag Shoal early yesterday. The location and movement of the vessels are shown in an image posted on X by SeaLight director Ray Powell.

World’s largest coast guard ship spotted near Panatag

MANILA, Philippines — China’s biggest coast guard ship is in the vicinity of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, the Philippine Navy confirmed yesterday, even as it continues checking alleged sightings of a pipeline in the land feature purportedly laid down by the Chinese.

Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, Philippine Navy spokesman for the West Philippine Sea (WPS), said the unnamed vessel was last sighted some 50 nautical miles from Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, also called Bajo de Masinloc.

The Navy official did not reveal other details of the Chinese vessel.

But in a post on X, Ray Powell, director of SeaLight, said the Chinese ship seen near Panatag yesterday was actually the world’s largest coast guard ship – 165 meters long with bow number 5901.

He also said on X that a smaller CCG ship with bow number 5203 was also in the vicinity. They were last spotted in the area at about 5:15 a.m., he said.

The sighting of the largest CCG ship dubbed “the Monster” came days after Beijing announced the issuance of a maritime regulation allowing its coast guard to pick up and detain for 60 days without trial any foreigner found trespassing in Chinese territorial waters. China considers almost the entire South China Sea its territory.

While the ship’s activities were being monitored, Trinidad stressed it’s up to the National Task Force (NTF) on WPS to decide which course of action to take next.

“It’s a Chinese Coast Guard ship and there will be appropriate response from the NTF, coast guard, Philippine Coast Guard,” he told reporters.

Trinidad also said the Philippine Navy is still verifying reports of pipe-laying work on Panatag Shoal by the Chinese.

“We are treating the initial report as unverified or unsubstantiated. We checked and we’re still trying to find other corroborating reports on that matter,” he said.

“So far, the report has been on its own, it’s still unverified or unsubstantiated. Unsubstantiated, unverified report, that’s how we think (of it) as of now,” Trinidad pointed out.

Just days after China’s warning of more restrictions in the West Philippine Sea, Filipino fishermen said harassment by the Chinese had gotten worse, based on testimonies from fisherfolk in Masinloc in Zambales during an onsite joint public consultation by the House committee on national defense and security and the special committee on WPS.

One of the fishermen, Nolly delos Santos from Sta. Cruz town in Zambales, said he had already stopped fishing in Bajo de Masinloc due to intensified Chinese harassment.

Santos also noted that the Chinese would sometimes intercept them and confiscate their catch – usually worth some P10,000 – and trade them with five kilos of noodles nearing expiry.

The others expressed their concern that the Chinese would make good their threat to arrest them starting June 15.

Traditional fishing ground

In a message, Speaker Martin Romualdez underscored that Bajo de Masinloc is a “traditional fishing ground of Zambales and Pangasinan fisherfolk,” as it is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales said they would relay the fishermen’s concerns to President Marcos.

Zambales Rep. Jay Khonghun and other congressmen suggested that assistance from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) be tailor-fit to the fisherfolk’s needs.

Khonghun said BFAR was giving fishermen “small fiberglass boats good for rivers while we need big vessels for the high seas.” He said Subic town in his district received one 20-foot boat from BFAR.

And while public consultation was going on, a Chinese dredger was spotted cruising the waters off Bucao, Zambales, raising concerns and questions about its presence.

The dredger, HONG FA 158, under a bareboat charter with Oromarine, was reportedly being operated by the China Harbour Engineering Co. (CHEC).

Zambales Ecological Network executive director Heidi Fernandez called the presence of the dredger a “slap in the face and mockery of our sovereignty.”

She said the presence of the dredger was particularly contentious, given the suspension of sand dredging activities in Zambales due to environmental complaints.

The CHEC was reportedly involved in the reclamation and construction of artificial islands by the Chinese in Philippine waters.

Meanwhile, also in a bid to assuage the fisherfolk’s concerns, PCG Commodore Jay Tarriela said they have “made a commitment to strengthen its presence in the West Philippine Sea by deploying more PCG vessels.”

“We will make sure Filipino fishermen will not be harassed by the CCG,” he said in an interview over dwPM Radyo 630 yesterday.

He said the Armed Forces would also help in “carrying out whatever it takes to make sure our fishermen are safe.”

He stressed that the new Chinese regulation “has no legal basis and is another form of harassment.”

Tarriela attended the inauguration of the new PCG station in Itbayat in the Philippines’ northernmost province of Batanes.

The new PCG station was “very important to the PCG and the government” because it would be used to “monitor the movement of ships crossing the Luzon Strait,” including Chinese research vessels, he said.

Last May 22, the PCG also opened a new station in the town of Hamtic in Antique.

The new building for the PCG station in Antique was a “commitment to providing better support to the local government by upholding maritime security and maritime safety within the vicinity waters of Antique.”

“The establishment of this new monitoring station is a strategic move to enhance maritime domain awareness and strengthen security measures along the Luzon Strait, a vital international waterway,” National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said, referring to the Itbayat station.

“This new facility not only extends the services offered by the national government through the PCG here in Itbayat, Batanes, but also improves the country’s maritime domain awareness efforts in Northern Luzon,” he said. — Artemio Dumlao, Ghio Ong, Sheila Crisostomo

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