Chinese harassment in WPS causes damage to PH vessels

Chinese harassment in WPS causes damage to PH vessels
AP file

THE China Coast Guard (CCG) harassed anew Philippine vessels in the Scarborough Shoal and Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) on Saturday, December 9, 2023, and Sunday, December 10, respectively, causing significant damage to the Philippine ships.

According to the National Task Force-WPS (NTF-WPS), on Saturday, December 9, CCG and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels once again utilized water cannons in an attempt to drive away civilian Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels Datu Sanday, Datu Bankaw, and Datu Tamblot.

These vessels were conducting a regular humanitarian and support mission, providing oil subsidies and grocery packs to over 30 Filipino fishing vessels near Bajo De Masinloc.

“Additionally, the Chinese Maritime Militia vessels are reported to have engaged in dangerous maneuvers and deployed what is understood to be a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) against the BFAR vessels – causing severe temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew,” the NTF-WPS said.

“Water cannon action have resulted in significant damage to BFAR vessel Datu Tamblot’s communication and navigation equipment, as it was directly and deliberately targeted by the China Coast Guard,” it added.

It said Chinese authorities also deployed Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats to disperse and drive away Filipino fishing vessels awaiting the distribution of fuel subsidies and food supplies from the BFAR ships.

Filipino fishermen also reported and documented that CCG illegally installed a floating barrier at the southeast entrance of Bajo De Masinloc to prevent BFAR vessels from accessing the entrance of the shoal.

The NTF-WPS condemned the aggressive actions of Chinese authorities, saying that preventing such humanitarian operations is not only illegal but also inhumane.

“We stress that Bajo de Masinloc is a high-tide feature with territorial sea, per the 2016 Arbitral Award. It forms an integral part of the Philippine national territory under the Constitution. The Philippines exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over the shoal and its territorial sea. The 2016 Arbitral Award has also clarified that Filipinos have traditional fishing rights in the water of Bajo de Masinloc protected by international law,” it said.

“China’s illegal exercise of maritime law enforcement powers, interference with Philippine vessels, harassment and intimidation of Filipino fisherfolk, or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of international law, particularly Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the Arbitral Award,” it added.

The NTF urged the Chinese vessel to vacate Bajo de Masinloc immediately, called on the Chinese government to take immediate action to halt these aggressive activities, uphold the principles of international law, and desist from actions that would infringe on Philippine sovereignty and endanger the lives and livelihoods of Filipino fishermen who have traditionally fished in the area.

December 10

Meanwhile, on Sunday, December 10, unprovoked CCG and CMM vessels “harassed, blocked, and executed dangerous maneuvers” on Philippine civilian supply vessels in another attempt to illegally prevent a routine resupply and rotation mission (RORE) to BRP Sierra Madre grounded in Ayungin Shoal.

The Chinese vessels also used water cannons, which resulted in severe damage to the Philippine vessel’s engine, disabling it “and seriously endangering the lives of its crew.”

The damaged vessel is currently being towed back to Ulugan Bay in Palawan.

The NTF maintained that Ayungin Shoal is a low-tide elevation that is within the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone.

“The Philippines exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the feature. As a low tide elevation, Ayungin Shoal can neither be the subject of a sovereignty claim nor is it capable of appropriation under international law. China cannot lawfully exercise sovereignty over it,” it said.

“In this regard, the assertion of China that its actions in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal are a legitimate exercise of law enforcement measures, has no basis in international law. Further, we express grave concern over the deliberate disinformation conducted through official channels that distort facts on the ground,” it added.

Because of these “illegal and irresponsible” actions, the NTF questions the sincerity of China’s calls for peaceful dialogue.

“Peace and stability cannot be achieved without due regard for the legitimate, well-established, and legally settled rights of others. We demand that China demonstrate that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community,” the NTF said.

“The Philippines continues to act in accordance with international law, particularly Unclos and the 2016 Arbitral Award. The Philippines will not be deterred from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zones, including Ayungin Shoal which forms part of our EEZ and continental shelf,” it added.

Meanwhile, China rejected the resolution adopted by the Senate on Wednesday, December 6, which condemns the harassment and "illegal actions" of the Chinese government in the WPS, despite the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) recognizing the Philippines' sovereign rights in the territorial waters.

"The resolution adopted by the House of Representatives of the Philippines groundlessly criticized, misrepresented and smeared China," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

"We firmly reject it," he added. (SunStar Philippines)

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