Report notes increase in Sino vessels near Ayungin since 2021 | Global News

Report notes increase in Sino vessels near Ayungin since 2021

By: - Reporter / @NCorralesINQ
/ 05:38 AM February 01, 2024

The number of Chinese vessels spotted near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal during Philippine resupply missions has “increased substantially” since 2021, with more and more military ships joining the swarm, according to a Washington-based think tank.

In a report published on Wednesday, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (Amti) said that on average, just one Chinese ship was spotted at Ayungin during resupply missions in 2021, but this increased to about 14 ships in 2023.

The Philippines, on the other hand, used only two to three vessels on average for resupply missions from 2021 to 2023, Amti said.


Ayungin, an underwater feature about 195 kilometers off Palawan province, has been a flashpoint between Manila and Beijing, being the site of a deliberately grounded World War II-era warship that now serves as a Philippine outpost.


Using combined public reporting and a review of Automated Identification System (AIS) data, Amti said the Philippines conducted 30 resupply missions to Ayungin during the period, 18 of which were both reported publicly and visible on AIS, nine were visible on AIS but not reported, and three were reported but not visible on AIS.

But the data are “inherently incomplete,” Amti said, since ships using short-range AIS transponders or those that turn their transponders off cannot be tracked on commercial satellite AIS platforms.

“This means that there are likely resupply missions that occurred but do not exist in this dataset, especially in 2021 and 2022 before the Philippines began regularly publicizing each mission,” it said.

According to Amti, the increase in the number of Chinese ships at Ayungin during resupply missions has been “dramatic” in recent months, with up to 46 Chinese ships spotted during the Dec. 10 resupply mission compared with just four from the Philippines.

The report particularly noted how China had been deploying more military and paramilitary vessels to Ayungin over the past three years.

To show the ‘bully’

In 2021, Chinese maritime militia vessels were not regularly deployed and only one China Coast Guard (CCG) ship was present during most resupply missions by the Philippines.


AIS data showed that from April to May 2021, Philippine government ships from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) were able to enter “deep within the shoal to deliver supplies, apparently uncontested,” the report said.

“But in the spring of 2022, groups of four to five militia vessels began to consistently maintain a presence at Second Thomas and assist with CCG efforts to stop Philippine government ships from entering the shoal.”

It was around this time that Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships began to escort resupply missions, “rather than the less capable” BFAR vessels, it added.

On Tuesday, Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, the new spokesperson for the Philippine Navy on matters relating to the West Philippine Sea, said 15 to 25 Chinese warships were last spotted near Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, some 37 km southeast of Ayungin.

Trinidad also said about 200 Chinese maritime militia vessels, including 10 to 15 CCG ships, were also spotted in the West Philippine Sea.

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Amti also noted how the Philippines had became more transparent in its resupply missions: 12 of the 15 trips made in 2023 were disclosed, compared to the three that were made public out of the seven missions done in 2021.Commodore Jay Tarriela of the PCG, another government spokesperson on the WPS issue, earlier said the intention was “to show the world that the bully country here is China.”


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