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Coast Guard told to brace for ‘water cannon scuffles’ over Sampaguita gas drilling

December 12, 2021 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 289 views

THE chairperson of the House strategic intelligence committee has urged the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to gird for looming “water cannon fire exchanges” with their counterparts from China over scheduled offshore gas drilling activities in Recto Bank.

“If and when China Coast Guard vessels fire their water cannons to harass the drilling activities, then our PCG boats should be ready to fight back with their water cannons,” Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said in a statement on Sunday. “The Vietnam Coast Guard does this all the time. They exchange water cannon sprays with the China Coast Guard.”

Forum Energy Ltd., operator of petroleum Service Contract 72 in the Recto Bank, is set to drill two deep-water appraisal wells in the Sampaguita gas discovery not later than Oct. 16, 2022.

“We expect the PCG to deploy its lead ship around Recto Bank for defensive purposes to secure the drilling activities,” Pimentel said, referring to 84-meter, French-built offshore patrol vessel BRP Gabriela Silang.

Pimentel recalled that in 2011, the M/V Veritas Voyager – the Singaporean research vessel chartered by Forum to conduct a survey of Sampaguita – was allegedly driven away by two China Marine Surveillance (CMS) ships.

Based on Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) records of the 2011 incident, the CMS ships Zhongguo 71 and 75 ordered the Veritas Voyager to leave Recto Bank, forcing Forum to discontinue its survey.

Five years later, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights when the CMS ships operated “in relation to M/V Veritas Voyager.”

Last month, three China Coast Guard vessels water cannoned two Filipino civilian boats on their way to resupply the Philippine Marine detachment at the obsolete BRP Sierra Madre.

The Sierra Madre is a World War II-era tank landing ship that the Philippine military purposely ran aground on Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a forward outpost in the Kalayaan Islands (Spratly Islands), some 194 kilometers west of Palawan.