PCG reports near-collision due to Chinese ship’s ‘dangerous’ maneuvers in Ayungin Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 28) — Beijing’s “aggressive tactics” against Manila continue in disputed waters, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said on Friday as it reported another incident of a Chinese ship’s dangerous maneuvers which risked the safety of Filipinos onboard a much smaller vessel.

The PCG confirmed reports of a near-collision in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal located 105 nautical miles west of Palawan last April 23 after a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel with bow number 5201 maintained a perilous distance of only 50 yards from the Philippines’ BRP Malapascua.

The CCG ship is nearly thrice the size of the Philippine patrol vessel, according to Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“Buti na lang ang ating commanding officer ng barko, na-prevent ang kanyang pagtakbo. Kung hindi, nagkaroon ng dangerous collision, nabangga natin sana sila,” Tarriela told CNN Philippines’ Balitaan.

[Translation: It’s a good thing the commanding officer of BRP Malapascua was able to halt the ship. Oherwise, there would’ve been a dangerous collision and we would’ve crashed into them.]

That same morning in Ayungin Shoal, the PCG said another CCG vessel with bow number 4202 persistently tailed the Philippines’ BRP Malabrigo at a distance of 700 yards and closely monitored its movements.

The PCG noted it has already reported these incidents to the National Task Force West Philippine Sea.

The government has repeatedly maintained that Ayungin Shoal is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Beijing continues to assert ownership over it.

Meanwhile, the PCG also raised an alarm over the presence of a Chinese warship in Philippine waters, which it said directed PCG vessels to leave the area.

According to the PCG, the confrontation took place on April 21 when a Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy vessel with bow number 549 crossed paths with Philippine ships some seven nautical miles from Filipino-held Pag-asa Island, located southwest of Palawan.

It said the Chinese gray ship issued a warning via radio challenges and suggested that Manila’s failure to comply might “cause problem.”

“Despite this, the PCG vessels did not back down and responded by asserting their rights to carry out operations within the territorial sea of Pag-asa Island. They further asked the Chinese navy to leave the area immediately instead,” the PCG said.

Over 100 Chinese vessels spotted

Besides the recent tense encounters, the PCG also said over 100 Chinese ships linger in the WPS despite being asked to leave.

The coast guard noted that this number is based on its weeklong maritime patrol from April 18 to 24 in Sabina Shoal, Iroquis Reef, Lawak, Patag, Likas, Parola, Pag-asa, Tizzard Bank, Julian Felipe Reef, and Ayungin Shoal.

Notably, it reported that 17 groups of suspected Chinese maritime militia (CMM) ships were found in the vicinity of Juan Felipe Reef, with the total count estimated to exceed 100 vessels.

The PCG deployed rigid hull inflatable boats in an attempt to drive them away but it said there was no reaction from the CMM vessels.

According to Tarriela, the large CMM gathering could either be “ghost ships” or the Chinese nationals inside are simply ignoring their calls.

“It appears na parang walang tao [It appears there are no passengers],” Tarriela said. “But I doubt (it)…We believe na merong tao dito sa mga barko na 'to [there are people inside these boats].”

“What we did, we documented each one of them, and then we also showed our media friends that these Chinese maritime militia are occupying Juan Felipe Reef and that falls within our exclusive economic zone,” Tarriela added.

Near Sabina Shoal, the PCG detected 18 other CMM vessels.

However, the Chinese ships also reportedly did not respond to numerous radio challenges ordering them to leave the waters immediately.

Meanwhile, the coast guard said it was able to successfully drive away from Pag-asa Island four CMM vessels “which appeared to be engaged in fishing activities.”

“The PCG is dedicated, along with the Western Command (WESCOM) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Area Task Force - West (ATF-WEST), to diligently and tirelessly work together to protect the Philippines' exclusive sovereign rights in its EEZ, its sovereignty, territory, and continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea,” it wrote in a statement.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo earlier said cases of “harassment or land reclamation” by Beijing continue in the WPS on a daily basis

The East Asian giant refuses to acknowledge the 2016 arbitral ruling in The Hague, which invalidated its sweeping claims over the South China Sea and recognized the Philippines' rights within its EEZ.