(Updated) Tension at the Scarborough Shoal decreased as six of the remaining Chinese vessels pulled out on Friday night, bringing along their “harvest” of marine life caught in Philippine waters, officials said.
Five Chinese fishing vessels and a Chinese fisheries law enforcement “command vessel” left the Scarborough Shoal between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, commander of the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command, said in a phone interview.
“Apparently the pullouts were the result of the negotiation by our foreign department with its Chinese counterpart,” Alcantara said.
On Friday noon, seven Chinese fishing vessels and the Zhungguo Haijan 75 marine survey vessel left the disputed area.
‘Illegal harvest’ off to China
In a statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said hetold Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing Friday night that the Philippines will allow the fishing vessels to return to China in exchange for confiscating their “illegal harvest.”
However, “no clear agreement” was reached as Ma asserted that Chinese authorities will inspect the vessels, according to Del Rosario.
“We had later learned that the Chinese fishing vessels had left the lagoon, a development which we had been working towards, except for our not being able to confiscate their illegal harvest pursuant to the Fisheries Code, which was regrettable,” he said.
“The meeting with Ambassador Ma last night resulted in a stalemate as we had demanded of one another that the other nation’s ship be first to leave the area,” Del Rosario added.
On Wednesday, Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama said the warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar stopped eight Chinese fishing vessels at the shoal Tuesday and found on some of them various corals, giant clams, and live sharks illegally caught in Philippine waters.
The number of Chinese surveillance vessels in and around the shoal eventually increased to four on Thursday, but only the two that blocked the shoal’s mouth remained the next day, Armed Forces chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa said on Friday.
The number of fishing vessels was confirmed to be 12 on Thursday, but only five were left on Friday, he said.
Coast Guard one-on-one with Chinese ship
Still in Scarborough Shoal, however, are the Philippine Coast Guard’s SARV-003 vessel, which replaced the Gregorio del Pilar, and the Chinese marine survey vessel number 84.
“Paghahandaan natin ‘yung susunod na incursion nila… hindi natin masasabing hindi na uulit ‘yun, paghahandaan natin ‘yung susunod,” Alcantara said.
The ships sent by the Navy earlier are presently replenishing their supplies, he added.
Dellosa revealed that amid the standoff, a Navy “peacock” gunship was posted some 14 kilometers away from the shoal while the Gregorio del Pilar was stationed “nearby.”
2nd warship to arrive this year
Due to the standoff and other incidents of intrusion into Philippine waters, the Department of National Defense and AFP are speeding up the acquisition of a second warship, according to Dellosa.
“Under negotiation na ‘yung Hamilton-Dallas, basta within this year dadating na ‘yan,” he said.
“We need more naval assets and aircraft to prevent ‘yung mga intrusion,” the AFP chief added.
Scarborough Shoal, claimed by both China and the Philippines, is located only 124 nautical miles from the shores of Zambales and is called Panatag Shoal by Manila. (John Roson)
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