The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported on Thursday that Chinese Coastguard vessels, a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) frigate, and private ships flying the Chinese flag continue to patrol close to Philippine possessions in the Spratly Islands.
From March 16 to March 21, the patrol ship BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) carried out a Maritime Patrol (MARPAT) assignment to the Kalayaan Island Group. During this period, several foreign ships, including a frigate of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), were spotted nearby. The Kalayaan Island Group is made up of the Philippines’ claims to nine features in the Spratly Islands that China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim as their own.
Malapascua kept an eye on the movement of at least 20 unnamed Chinese and Vietnamese ships at Sabina Shoal. 20 Chinese boats were spotted on March 16 at a distance of 1.56 nautical miles southeast of Sabina Shoal, according to a photo posted on the PCG’s social media website.
Near the reef, the PCG surveillance ship came into contact with the CCG 5304 and CCG 5305 of the China Coast Guard.
Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) were dispatched to scatter the foreign marked vessels in and around the shoal after the PCG vessel repeatedly radioed challenged the CCG ships but got no answer.
Malapascua came upon a PLAN Type 056 Jiangdao-class frigate with ship number 649 off Pag-Asa Island, also referred to as Thitu island, within the island’s 12 nautical mile boundary.
The PLAN frigate was recognized by its identification number as CNS Guangyuan (649); this is most likely the same vessel that has been spotted again on March 9 after lingering off Pag-Asa since March 4. The PLAN corvette’s identification number was not known in either instance. According to the statement, the PLAN frigate replied to the PCG ship’s radio queries by issuing its own.
Malapascua observed the location of China Coast Guard ship CCG 5201 while monitoring Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal globally, and communicated radio threats to it. During the incident at Ayungin Shoal, CCG 5201 approached the stranded Philippine Navy landing ship tank BRP Sierra Madre as close as 1.2 nautical miles away while following the PCG ship at a distance of about 1,600 yards. (LT-57). According to a photo showing CCG 5201 following Malapascua on March 21, the CCG ship was 2 NM northeast of Ayungin Shoal.
According to the press release, the PCG is collaborating with the Western Command (WESCOM) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Area Task Force – West (ATF-WEST) to monitor and react to the presence of foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and has given the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea the post-operation report for the Malapascua MARPAT mission.
In order to draw attention to China’s activities in the Spratly Islands, which the Philippines perceives as an infringement on its sovereignty, the PCG has been mounting a campaign of publicly disclosing the presence of Chinese ships near its holdings there. It has also been taking Filipino and foreign journalists on board its air patrols.
China still maintains that the Spratly Islands are under its jurisdiction.
“China has authority over the pertinent seas as well as ownership over the Nansha Islands, or Spratly Islands in Chinese. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Mao Ning stated on March 10 that it is valid and legal for Chinese boats to function in seas under Chinese authority.
According to a statement issued on Thursday by the Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Japanese Ministry of Defense, PLAN surface ships crossed the Tsushima Strait to reach the Sea of Japan on Wednesday.
On Tuesday at 1 p.m., destroyer CNS Qiqihar (121) was seen cruising east in a region 240 kilometers to the west of the Goto Islands. An hour later, cruiser CNS Anshan (103) and resupply ship CNS Taihu (889) were seen heading east in a region 300 kilometers to the west of the Goto Islands.
The PLAN destroyers made distinct crossings of the Tsushima Strait on Wednesday; Qiqihar crossed alone, while Anshan and Taihu crossed together.
According to the press release, the fast attack craft JS Shirataka (PG-829) and minesweeper JS Toyoshima (MSC-685) of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, as well as the JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of Fleet Air Wings 1 and 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Honshu and JMSDF Kanoya Air Base, Kyushu, shadowed the PLAN ships.