Chinese fishing boats leave Pagasa Island

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The last of the Chinese flotilla of some 20 fishing boats have left the disputed waters off Pagasa Island in the West Philippine Sea, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Monday.

Lieutenant Colonel Neil Estrella, spokesperson of the AFP Western Command, said all the Chinese vessels which had anchored some five nautical miles off Pagasa last week sailed away Monday.

“That’s the latest report we got. Those (Chinese boats) which were sighted there have already moved out,” Estrella said in a phone interview with reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

“As of now, we do not see any foreign vessels in the vicinity of Pagasa Island,” he said.

The Chinese boats “voluntarily” left the area even before the Philippine Navy could send its vessels because of the rough seas.

“That’s normal. They arrived there and just left,” he said.

Estrella said they could not confirm reports that the Chinese fishermen had gathered corals and different species of fish from the waters where they anchored for several days.

A Philippine Daily Inquirer source said a fleet of some 20 Chinese fishing vessels purportedly escorted by at least two naval frigates of the People’s Liberation Army were seen a few kilometers from Pagasa on July 24.

The Chinese boats were reportedly seen fishing and collecting corals from the area, which the military said was known for its coral reef formations.

The Western Command confirmed the Inquirer report, but said the Chinese fishermen were merely taking shelter from the huge waves stirred by a weather disturbance.

Commodore Rustom Peña, commander of Naval Forces West, said at least 20 fishing vessels were anchored nine kilometers off Pagasa Island, the seat of government of the Kalayaan municipality in Palawan province.

But he said there were no sightings of the reported military escort of the fishing fleet. “There are no other vessels there,” he said.

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