China ship stalks PH survey vessel

China ship stalks PH survey vesseled research vessel currently conducting a hydrographic survey just 35 nautical miles off the coast of western Luzon. PHOTO FROM PCG

A Chinese coast guard vessel has been tailing a Philippine flagged research vessel currently conducting a hydrographic survey just 35 nautical miles off the coast of western Luzon. PHOTO FROM PCG

MANILA, Philippines — A Chinese coast guard vessel has been tailing an ongoing hydrographic survey of Philippine flagged vessels near Bajo de Masinloc (also called Panatag or Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea.

In a press conference on Monday, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela, said a China Coast Guard (CCG) ship, with tail No. 5303, has been “monitoring and tailing” the BRP Hydrographer Ventura of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria) and its PCG escort ship BRP Gabriela Silang off the coast of northwestern Luzon.

The survey, which started on April 14, will wrap up this weekend, he said.

READ: China Coast Guard harassed PH ships anew, says PCG official

“It just goes to show that the China Coast Guard is deploying in other areas within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to impose the legitimacy of the nine-dash line,” Tarriela said. “They are justifying their illegal presence and they are not hesitating to violate international law and they do not respect our sovereign rights.”

He was referring to what many consider as the root cause of maritime disputes China is involved in with other countries as Beijing’s so-called historical claim, the nine-dash line, encloses about 85.7 percent of the entire South China Sea.

Tarriela asserted that the Philippines has all the rights to conduct a survey within its 200-nautical-mile (370-kilometer) EEZ “and yet the China Coast Guard is there monitoring our presence within our EEZ and 650 nautical miles away from them.”

‘Barely moving’

The Chinese ship has kept a distance of around a nautical mile from the Philippine ships, he said.

Maritime security expert Ray Powell, director of SeaLight, a Stanford University project that tracks activities in the South China Sea through satellite images, said on Sunday that CCG 5303 was monitored 35 nautical miles (about 65 km) from the Philippines’ coast, “blocking the path” for the Philippine ships to get to their research area north of Bajo de Masinloc.

“They have barely moved this past eight hours,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Bajo de Masinloc, a rich fishing ground off Zambales province, is a small ring of reefs located within the country’s EEZ. In 2012, China seized control of the shoal after a tense standoff with the Philippine Navy, prompting the Philippine government to file a case against it before the international arbitration court.

In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea in the South China Sea, invalidating Beijing’s sweeping and overlapping claims in one of the world’s most important economic and environmental areas.

National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said in the same press conference with Tarriela that Powell’s appreciation of facts was “inaccurate” because he only monitored through an automatic identification system.

“It was made to appear that there was a standoff because the ships were barely moving. That’s because they were doing a survey,” he pointed out.

“There is no interference, there is no standoff,” Malaya said. “What China is doing is shadowing the Philippine Coast Guard and Namria vessels,” he said.