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PH Coast Guard patrols in West Philippine Sea disrupted by pandemic

/ 04:49 PM March 03, 2021

DAVID AND GOLIATH The 114-meter China Coast Guard ship Zhongguohaijing sails close to the Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Kalanggaman, a 24-meter French-built patrol boat that joined two other PCG vessels and the US cutter Bertholf in search-and-rescue, maritime security and law enforcement exercises near the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. — Agence France-Presse file photo

MANILA, Philippines—Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrols in the West Philippine Sea have been disrupted by the pandemic, PCG commandant Admiral George Ursabia Jr. said on Wednesday (March 3).

Only one vessel is currently deployed to Palawan, which is not enough to patrol the West Philippine Sea on a regular basis, he said at an online press briefing.

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“We have been patrolling the West Philippine Sea using our 44-meter multi-role response vessels and our Islander, a fixed wing aircraft,” Ursabia said.

“But during the pandemic, unfortunately we had to pull out one of our MRRV from Palawan to undertake COVID-related tasks,” Ursabia added.

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“That explains why we only have one vessel in Palawan for such missions. Obviously it can’t conduct a continuous patrol in that area,” he added.

Weather disturbances have also altered the schedule of PCG patrols, he said.

“Which means, it is not really that continuous but we are trying our best to have such presence there using our surface vessel or our aircraft,” Ursabia said.

In the last several months, the PCG has been conducting humanitarian missions in support of the government’s response to natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.

PCG ships and boats have been deployed across the country to transport relief supplies and stranded passengers.

But while the Philippines was forced to reduce the duration or frequency of its patrols in the West Philippine Sea, China increased patrols in the area, including in waters that are part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in December last year that China Coast Guard appeared to patrol the West Philippine Sea more frequently in 2020.

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China further upped the ante with a new law allowing its Coast Guard to fire at foreign vessels spotted in areas that it claimed to own which Ursabia said would “certainly be an issue” if the West Philippine Sea came into play.

“Any country can come up with such domestic law. Applying it in the West Philippine Sea would certainly be an issue. West Philippine Sea is a contested area,” he said.

“They can’t claim it’s theirs. It’s also ours. So applying domestic law there would certainly be an issue. We can contest it,” he added.

Edited by TSB

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TAGS: COVID-19, dispute, patrols, Philippine Coast Guard, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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