Locsin: Sino research ship allowed to ‘seek shelter, not to stay’
MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese research vessel Jia Geng was only allowed to “seek shelter” for “humanitarian considerations” on an emergency request from the Chinese Embassy in Manila, but “not to stay,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Tuesday.
Locsin also said the Philippine Coast Guard had “zero authority” to allow the Chinese vessel to stay in Philippine waters.
The Jia Geng is the same vessel that was seen in northern Philippine waters last year. It left when its unauthorized presence within Philippine territory raised howls in Manila.
But the vessel reentered Philippine territory, again without permission from local authorities, on Jan. 25, this time on the country’s eastern side. Two days later, Ryan Martinson, assistant professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute of the US Naval War College, tweeted that the Jia Geng was “back operating in the Philippine exclusive economic zone. Current location about [242 kilometers] east of Samar.”
The Coast Guard said the Jia Geng had diplomatic clearance to take shelter on Cabugao Bay, Catanduanes, where it anchored on Jan. 29. It said it deployed a boarding team, but the captain refused to allow the Filipino coast guards to board the ship “due to health protocols.”
Unable to inspect the Chinese vessel, the Coast Guard just watched it until it left Philippine waters on Monday.
“DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) never gave permit to Jia Geng. But for humanitarian considerations, we ok’d Chinese embassy request for shelter against bad weather. The Coast Guard has zero authority to allow it. Only DFA. Not to stay. But seek shelter. Period,” Locsin said in a post on Twitter on Tuesday.
In another tweet, Locsin said the Philippine Embassy in Beijing reported on Jan. 28 a phoned-in request to allow the Jia Geng “to take shelter in Cabugao Bay.” It was followed by a written request from the Chinese Embassy in Manila containing the same request.
There was no weather disturbance in the eastern Philippines at the time, but the DFA, Locsin said, gave “go signal [for wind shelter] Jan. 31.”
Locsin also mentioned the Chinese captain’s refusal to allow this vessel to be boarded by the Filipino coast guards.
The presence of the Jia Geng alarmed the residents of Bato, Catanduanes, according to the town mayor, Juan Rodulfo.
It is one of the Chinese vessels that have entered Philippine territory without permission from local authorities, prompting calls for a government investigation of the intrusions.
Last week, the Coast Guard seized a 2,340-ton dredging ship, the Zhonhai 68, in waters off Bataan province for “unauthorized presence” in Philippine territory.
The Zhonhai 68 and another Chinese dredging ship, the Zhonhai 88, figured in a controversy involving sand extraction off Masinloc, Bataan, in 2019.
The Coast Guard said the Zhonhai 68, which should have left the country over a year ago, actually just moved to Aparri in the northern Philippines for another dredging operation until November 2019.
It then sailed to Hagonoy, Bulacan, supposedly for repairs and conversion, but the Coast Guard said the vessel had no papers to show for those purposes.
A Coast Guard patrol spotted the Zhonhai 68 off Orion Point in Bataan on Wednesday and seized it. The vessel was flying the Sierra Leone flag of convenience when it was held by Philippine authorities.
The whereabouts of the Zhonhai 88 are unknown. Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares on Monday urged the authorities to look for the vessel and investigate the illegal operations of Chinese ships in Philippine waters. —WITH A REPORT FROM FRANCES MANGOSING
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