Tag Archive: standoff

Taiwan's cutter 118 (photo from Taiwan Coast Guard website)

Taiwan’s cutter 118 (photo from Taiwan Coast Guard website)

A Taiwan Coast Guard ship launched speedboats and threatened to shoot a Philippine patrol vessel during their standoff over an apprehended fishing boat in waters near Batanes last week, a security official said Wednesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed the incident as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) confirmed the standoff.

“There came a point na ang sabi nila (Taiwan Coast Guard), ‘Stop, or we will shoot you. Release the boat,'” said the official, who asked not to be named because of the issue’s sensitivity.

That incident occurred inside the “contiguous zone” of the Philippines, the official said.

Earlier Wednesday, PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo confirmed the standoff, saying it occurred 18 nautical miles northeast of Batanes last May 25.

MCS vessels of BFAR. (photo from the Philippines' Official Gazette website)

MCS vessels of BFAR. (photo from the Philippines’ Official Gazette website)

It involved PCG members on a Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ (BFAR) and the Taiwan Coast Guard cutter number 118, he said.

The standoff began when Coast Guard personnel apprehended the Taiwanese fishing boat Min Jiang Tsai 6 around 6:25 p.m., Balilo said.

“The PCG was towing the fishing boat when Taiwan Coast Guard cutter 118 appeared and blocked the BFAR vessel and asked for the release of the fishing boat,” Balilo said.

Members of the PCG later released the fishing boat as per instruction by BFAR officers, after “four hours of negotiation” with the Taiwan Coast Guard cutter’s crew, he said.

The source, for his part, said things did not go as smoothly because Taiwan’s Coast Guard made several aggressive attempts to have the fishing boat released.

The cutter, according to the official, launched two speedboats in an apparent attempt to board the fishing boat and wrest it from Filipino law enforcers.

A BFAR MCS vessel docks side by side with a Navy patrol boat in Sta. Ana, Cagayan, one of the staging points of patrols to Batanes (May 2014 photo)

A BFAR MCS vessel docks side by side with a Navy patrol boat in Sta. Ana, Cagayan, one of the staging points of patrols to Batanes (May 2014 photo)

Taiwan’s ship also suddenly “cut” the path of the BFAR MCS-3004 vessel, risking a collision, he said.

A collision would have proven dangerous for the MCS-3004, which is only about 30 meters long as compared to the 63.5-meter Taiwanese cutter, according to the source.

That prompted the MCS-3004 to maneuver away and it went on sailing with the fishing boat in tow, until the cutter made the threat to shoot, the source said.

Only two Philippine Coast Guard members on the vessel had firearms at the time while the cutter, because of its size, is believed to be packing heavy weapons.

“They were outnumbered, outgunned, overpowered… Considering their predicament, ni-release na lang ‘yung fishing boat instead na may mapahamak,” the official said.

The source, meanwhile, revealed that a second incident involving another Taiwan Coast Guard ship occurred on May 28.

This occurred some 12 nautical miles from Batanes’ northernmost Amianan Island which is well within Philippine territory, he said.

The Taiwan Coast Guard ship appeared after PCG personnel drove away another Taiwanese fishing vessel, the source said.

Jovita Ayson, director of BFAR Region 2, said her office is now preparing reports on the incidents and will submit these to BFAR administrator Asis Perez.

Perez, in a text message, said he is out of the country and is still waiting for the reports.

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard and BFAR will continue patrolling waters off Batanes despite the incidents to “deter” foreign poachers, Ayson said. (John Roson)

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The Philippines’ two-month fishing ban at the hotly-contested Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) expires Sunday, amid a fresh deployment of Chinese fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

As of Saturday, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has not yet issued a directive to continue the “close fishing season,” its director, Asis Perez said.

“Wala pa po tayong action dun, pagka hindi po tayo nagbigay ng bagong directive tomorrow, or by Monday, ibig sabihin expired na ‘yun… hanggang [July] 15 lang po yun” Perez said in a phone interview.

The ban’s expiration comes amid reports that China sent a big fishing fleet to the South China Sea, which Manila calls its West Philippine Sea.

The 30-vessel fleet set out from the southern Chinese province of Hainan on Thursday, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Last May 13, China announced that an “annual” fishing ban was to be imposed in parts of the South China Sea, including waters around Panatag Shoal which it calls Huangyan Island.

The Philippines, which was then locked in a “standoff” with Chinese law enforcement vessels in Panatag, also declared a fishing ban days after, but said it had nothing to do with China’s move.

China’s fishing ban was imposed May 16 and will last until August 1, Xinhua reported then.

However, Chinese fishing vessels, which bring along dozens of dinghies, have been monitored inside Panatag’s “lagoon” since the ban’s supposed implementation until as recently as July 2, according to Philippine security officials. (John Roson)

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Chinese vessels stayed in Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal), Navy chief Alexander Pama said today.

A Navy Islander plane saw the ships as it conducted an aerial surveillance over the shoal on Monday afternoon, Pama said in a press briefing.

Three Chinese Maritime Surveillance ships and two Fisheries Law Enforcement Command vessels were seen outside the shoal. Six fishing vessels and 17 dinghies were seen inside, he said.

Some of the vessels stayed and some are new, Pama told reporters. (John Roson)

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Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin warned that China may occupy Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) if the Philippines leaves it unguarded.

“Pagka hindi mo tinauhan ‘yung lugar na ‘yun, ang [gagawin] nila occupancy, nandudun sila, so ‘yun ang gagawin nilang basis nung kanilang claim,” Gazmin told defense reporters in a phone conference Thursday.

The defense chief said it was necessary for the country to send the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ vessels back to Panatag.

“Bakit nga hindi at hindi naman umaalis ‘yung mga Intsik dun, kailangang balikan natin,” he said.

On Wednesday, President Benigno Aquino III said the country should send ships back to Panatag should Chinese law enforcement vessels remain in the area.

The President ordered the Coast Guard and BFAR ships to return to port last Friday because of bad weather brought by typhoon “Butchoy.” (John Roson)

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President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the country’s two ships near Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) to return home because of bad weather.

Aquino ordered the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessels to “return to port” Friday night due to “increasing bad weather,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.

The President’s order came as typhoon “Butchoy” (international name: Guchol) came closer to the country via the Pacific Ocean.

The storm was seen continuously moving towards the country’s northwest Saturday, packing maximum 120 kph winds near the center and a gustiness of up to 150 kph.

“When weather improves, a reevaluation will be made,” Del Rosario said.

Sought for comment on the ships’ pullout, the Department of National Defense said it sees the move as only “normal.”

“It’s a common practice for ships to seek safer areas during inclement weather. Siyempre ang iniisip ni Presidente diyan ay ‘yung safety ng ating mga personnel,” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

The military, on the other hand, said it will just continue to monitor developments in Panatag through the Coast Guard.

“That’s the mandate, order ng President ‘yan eh, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is just following,” AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said.

“We will be closely in touch with the Philippine Coast Guard… we will maintain coordination with the Coast Guard and other agencies as far as the security of the area is concerned,” he said.

The Coast Guard and BFAR ships had been in a “standoff” with several Chinese law enforcement vessels in Panatag since April, after the Navy tried to arrest Chinese fishermen who were seen carrying live sharks, corals, and giant clams poached from Philippine waters on their boats.

The Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar was the first to engage the Chinese in the standoff, but was eventually pulled out in what government officials said was a move to let civilian agencies deal with Chinese civilian agencies. (John Roson)

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More Chinese law enforcement vessels have been spotted in Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) as the standoff between the Philippines and China neared its second month, a security official said.

As of Thursday morning, authorities monitored four Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) vessels and three Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) vessels, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The number of vessels increased from only two CMS ships and three FLEC vessels reported by the Department of Foreign Affairs last week.

The security official said there are now only eight Chinese fishing vessels at the shoal and no “utility boats” were spotted.

Last May 23, the DFA reported that there were 16 Chinese fishing vessels and 56 “utility boats” at the shoal.

The standoff started on April 10, when a Philippine Navy ship tried to arrest Chinese fishermen on vessels carrying corals, endangered giant clams, and live sharks poached from Philippine waters.

Asean-China ties ‘unaffected’ – DND

Meanwhile, Department of National Defense spokesman Dr. Peter Paul Galvez said yesterday that military ties between the Association and Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China remain unaffected by issues in the West Philippine Sea, including the standoff in Panatag.

He said Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and other Asean defense chiefs discussed the issue during their meeting in Cambodia.

“When the issue of the West Philippine Sea was touched, the ASEAN Defense Ministers have concurred that the defense and military cooperation between ASEAN and China remained unaffected,” Galvez said in a statement.

Galvez, however, pointed out that Asean member-states stand put in their commitment to implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

“Likewise, together with the rest of the ASEAN, we underscore the importance of freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea as provided for by universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he said. (John Roson)

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Authorities have seen “signs of degradation” in and around Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez confirmed Wednesday.

Personnel of the BFAR and Philippine Coast Guard assigned in the area have reported “water discoloration” and “destruction of corals,” Perez said in a phone interview.

The changes in the shoal’s environment is apparently caused by an increasing number of fishermen, the BFAR chief said.

Perez made the remarks as the BFAR ordered a stop to fishing activities in Panatag, following a similar move by China.

The BFAR’s two-month “close fishing season” took effect Tuesday night.

“For the meantime lang ito, kasi malapit na rin ‘yung habagat (monsoon season). Tapos based na rin dun sa mga reports galing sa area, medyo marami po ang nangingisda. Kaya po maganda na isarado po muna natin ‘yung dagat para makapahinga po ‘yung Bajo de Masinloc,” Perez said.

Bajo de Masinloc is the name given to Panatag during the Spanish colonization period.

During the “close fishing season,” the BFAR will conduct studies in and around Panatag to determine the extent of damage that the shoal and its environment have suffered.

“Pag-aaralan natin ‘yung biological as well as the physical characteristics of the area, to be able to determine what appropriate management measures ang dapat gawin dun sa lugar,” Perez said.

As of Tuesday night, four Filipino fishing boats and about 10 Chinese fishing vessels were still in Panatag.

Vessels of the BFAR, Coast Guard, and the Chinese Maritime Survellance also remain in a “standoff” in Panatag to lay the Philippines’ and China’s claim to the rich fishing ground. (John Roson)

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The United States’ nuclear-powered attack submarine USS North Carolina (SSN-777) is in Subic Bay, Zambales, amid a “standoff” between the Philippines and China in Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal).

The submarine arrived in Subic Bay on May 13, according to a statement posted at the US Pacific Command (US PaCom) website.

“The crew is proud of our recent contributions as part of our country’s commitment to maintaining freedom of navigation, peace and stability in the region,” Cmdr. Richard Rhinehart, North Carolina’s commanding officer, said in the statement.

The North Carolina’s visit is part of her “Western Pacific deployment,” said Lt. Lara Bollinger, public affairs officer of the US PaCom’s Submarine Group 7.

Western parts of the Pacific Ocean include the Sea of Japan, Celebes Sea, Coral Sea, East China Sea, Philippine Sea, Sulu Sea, Tasman Sea, Yellow Sea, and the South China Sea.

North Carolina’s arrival came amid what is now a month-long “standoff” between vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Surveillance in Panatag, which both countries claim.

Panatag Shoal, called Huangyan Island by China, is located in the South China Sea, 124 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales. Masinloc is only a little more than 70 kilometers away from Subic Bay.

Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Tonsay, however, said the North Carolina’s visit, which will last until May 19, was only for “routine ship replenishment” and has nothing to do with the ongoing standoff in Panatag.

“Walang kinalaman ‘yan, ‘yun nga ang inuulit namin, the Philippines stands in the crossroads of a major oceanic sealane so talagang geographic ang location natin, dadaanan at dadaanan tayo ng mga barko, that includes them,” Tonsay told reporters by phone.

North Carolina, which measures more than 350 feet long and weighs more than 7,800 tons when submerged, is one of four “Virginia class” submarines designed by the US for the “post Cold-War environment,” Bollinger said.

Virginia class submarines are able to attack targets ashore with highly accurate Tomahawk cruise missiles and conduct covert long-term surveillance of land areas, littoral waters, or other sea-based forces, according to an article at the US Pacific Fleet Submarine Force’s website.

North Carolina’s homeport is in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

“She is designed to operate with stealth, agility and endurance in the world’s littoral regions, as well as the deep oceans,” Bollinger said.

“She brings to the region the capability to conduct the full spectrum of potential submarine missions including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, strike, naval special warfare involving special operations forces, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and mine warfare,” Bollinger added. (John Roson)

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(Update) The Department of National Defense on Friday said China’s deployment of a patrol gunboat to the West Philippine Sea was okay, if the vessel does not stray into Philippine waters.

“It’s okay if it (gunboat) goes around in international waters. When it goes within the EEZ (exclusive economic zone), that’s a different story,” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

Galvez made the remark when sought for comment on China’s reported deployment of the Yuzheng 310.

Chinese state media reported on Thursday that the Yuzheng 310, China’s most advanced fishery administration vessel, was deployed from Guangzhou to protect Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea, which Manila calls West Philippine Sea.

“Ang claim nila (China), that ship is a fisheries ship, so civilian ‘yan in nature, wala rin tayong problema dun,” Galvez said.

The deployment came amid a “standoff” between two China Marine Surveillance vessels and a Philippine Coast Guard ship at the Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal).

Panatag Shoal is located some 120 nautical miles from the shore of Masinloc town in Zambales province, well within the 200-nautical mile EEZ provided for coastal states under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It was not immediately known where the Yuzheng 310 already was on Friday.

The standoff started last April 10, when the Philippine Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar tried to arrest Chinese fishermen on 12 boats that were found carrying corals, giant clams, and live sharks poached in Philippine waters.

The warship withdrew from the shoal the next day and was replaced by a Coast Guard ship, in what Philippine officials said was a move to let a civilian agency deal with another civilian agency.

The Coast Guard, despite being armed, is considered a civilian agency since it is supervised by the Department of Transporation and Communications. The China Marine Surveillance falls under the State Oceanic Administration. (John Roson)

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Armed Forces chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa called on government troops to sustain operational readiness, as the standoff with China at the Scarborough Shoal entered its first week.

“It is imperative for our ground forces to sustain operational readiness keeping in mind the critical times that we are in now,” Dellosa said in a speech at the opening of the Balikatan joint military exercises with the US.

The military chief said the AFP is “in a shadow of doubt” on a certain “international issue,” which other nations are also concerned with.

“As a chief institution mandated to protect our people, uphold our territorial integrity, and defend this country’s sovereignty, we must be wary of this issue,” he said.

Dellosa did not specify what issue he was referring to, but gave the remarks while the Armed Forces was closely monitoring developments at the Scarborough Shoal.

“It is during these times that our alliances must be reaffirmed,” the AFP chief told an audience of military officials, mostly from the US and Philippines.

Balikatan ‘timely’

The 12-day Balikatan military exercises, according to Dellosa, is “timely” with the Philippines’ international issue.

“Even with the international situation that we are in, I say that this exercise in connection with all goals which we held in the past, is a timely and mutually beneficial event for us and our US counterpart,” he said.

But Maj. Emmanuel Garcia, the AFP’s spokesman for the Balikatan, said the annual military exercises are not related to the events at the Scarborough Shoal.

“It is not directed towards any country, it was planned way before and in fact, the field training exercises will be held in Fort Magsaysay,” Garcia said, referring to the Balikatan’s combat training aspect.

Fort Magsaysay, the Philippine Army’s largest camp, is located in Nueva Ecija. Scarborough Shoal is located about 124 nautical miles off Zambales.

Aside from exercises at the Army camp, participants of the Balikatan will also hold exercises aimed at protecting oil and gas platforms at sea, particularly the Malampaya natural gas project off Palawan.

The Malampaya natural gas platform can be found in waters of the West Philippine Sea, another area where the Philippines and China also have overlapping claims.

Civil-military operations, where US and Filipino soldiers will build houses and classrooms, will also be conducted in Palawan.

Philippines changes guard at Scarborough anew

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard deployed another ship to Scarborough Shoal on Monday to replace the search and rescue vessel which it sent earlier to relieve a Navy warship.

The Coast Guard’s SARV-002 arrived near the shoal around 7 a.m., joining the SARV-003, Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara said.

The SARV-003, also known as BRP Pampanga, was earlier sent to Scarborough to relieve the Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar in an ongoing standoff with Chinese ships that started last Tuesday.

But Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Alger Ricafrente said the SARV-002, which is also called BRP Edsa Dos, was sent to “replace” the BRP Pampanga which is now short of supplies.

“Papalitan siya (BRP Pampanga) kasi exhausted na rin yung resources niya, so kailangan niyang mag-refuel, re-water, (bumili ng) pagkain,” Ricafrente said.

The changing of Philippine ships came after China re-deployed one of its maritime surveillance vessels to the shoal, bringing the number of Chinese ships in the area back to two.

Aside from the two ships, a Chinese aircraft was also reportedly seen conducting “flybys” near the BRP Pampanga.

Despite the Chinese movements, Alcantara said he believes the situation in the disputed area was stable.

“I believe it’s very stable, normal. There are Filipino fishermen there, labas-masok ‘yung mga fishermen natin dun,” he said.

However, the regional military commander said the Navy ships that were sent earlier to the shoal are replenishing provisions and are ready to be deployed back. (John Roson)

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