Friday, May 24, 2013

Philippines sending unarmed Navy ships to Ayungin Shoal

At least three Chinese ships and 10 fishing boats were seen within the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal last Wednesday despite the diplomatic protest filed by the Philippines against China’s intrusion in the area.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the vessels were spotted by security forces that conducted surveillance operations at about 5 a.m.

“We saw a frigate. We saw CMS (Chinese maritime surveillance) maritime ships. We have pictures and we have sent them to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA),” Gazmin said in a press briefing.

“Based on [the photos] that I saw yesterday, there were two CMS and one frigate,” he added.

Gazmin added that about 10 fishing boats or dinghies were also seen in the area, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

He said the deployment of a Chinese military frigate to the area is “unusual.”

“As far as we're concerned, it (Ayungin) is not a disputed (area). It’s ours,” the defense chief said.

Meanwhile, Gazmin said that the military will not send additional ships to the shoal but the resupply mission to the Filipino contingent in the area will go on as scheduled.

"We will be using an unarmed Navy ship for our resupply and replenishment missions to our forces there," he said.

The Filipino contingent in the shoal are in BRP Sierra Madre, a landing ship tank which ran aground off the Shoal several years back.

Ayungin Shoal is 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and forms part of the 200 nautical miles of the Philippine continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group off Palawan and is one of the areas occupied by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, the subject of a territorial row in the region.

Last week, a Chinese ship harassed a utility boat of Kalayaan Island town with 147 civilians that included the group of town mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.

Bito-onon claimed that the Chinese vessel started chasing the Queen Seagull utility boat while they were passing by the Ayungin Shoal.

The mayor said the Chinese vessel, which came from the eastern side of the shoal, used its powerful floodlights and sailed toward their boat several times. The Chinese warship reportedly came as close as 50 meters to their boat.

The chase, which reportedly lasted for about an hour, ended when the Queen Seagull reached the area around Half Moon Shoal, where a Chinese gunboat got stuck last year.

On Tuesday, the DFA announced that the Philippines had filed a protest against the illegal deployment of Chinese vessels around the Ayungin Shoal

The protest, which was filed last May 10, complained about the provocative presence of two CMS and one warship around the area.

The Philippines has asked China to respect its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its continental shelf.

“China’s interference with the sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea is a violation of international law,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a press conference last Tuesday.

China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea while the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area.-The Philippine Star

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