AFP alarmed over 48 Chinese vessels swarming near Recto Bank

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 7) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has raised concerns over the growing number of Chinese fishing vessels spotted in the disputed West Philippine Sea, with the latest swarming seen as a “threat” to oil and gas-rich Recto Bank’s security.

Describing it as “a concerning development,” the AFP reported Friday that pilots aboard NV312—a Britten Norman Islander light patrol aircraft of the Philippine Navy—saw an “alarming presence” of Chinese vessels during their latest air patrol on June 30.

A total of 48 Chinese fishing vessels were observed roaming the Iroquois Reef, which is south of Recto Bank.

According to Lieutenant Edgard Abogado, pilot-in-command of NV312, the Chinese fishing vessels were “quite visible from the air.”

“[They] were observed to be anchored in groups of five to seven and no fishing activities were noticed. They seem to just loiter in the area,” Lieutenant Karla Andres, co-pilot of NV312, also said.

Meanwhile, three China Coast Guard (CCG) ships and two People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels were also “regularly loitering” at Sabina Shoal.

“These developments raise an alarming concern about China's intentions and actions within these disputed waters," the AFP said.

"Recto Bank, a significant feature for the Philippines holding immense potential for the country’s energy security and economic growth, stands as a focal point in this rising concern over China’s recent behavior,” it also said.

It also reiterated the call of AFP Western Command (WESCOM) spokesperson, Commander Ariel Coloma, for China to stop its swarming of vessels.

The AFP said the latest development would be reported to higher government officials for possible filing of a diplomatic protest.

The military’s statement came days after news reports surfaced about Chinese militia vessels allegedly shadowing and blocking Filipino coast guards on a resupply mission at Ayungin Shoal.

On Friday, the US government issued a statement calling out China over its “unprofessional maneuvers” in the contested waterway.

An international arbitral tribunal award in 2016 invalidated China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea, but Beijing continues to reject the ruling.

China's increasingly aggressive behavior in the hotly contested waterway has antagonized other claimants including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the sea row that has long been regarded as an Asian flashpoint.