THE Western Command (Wescom) reported that 48 Chinese fishing vessels (CFVs) have been spotted swarming the Iroquois Reef, which is located south of the oil and gas-rich Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
The Wescom, in a Facebook post on Friday, said this was based on information from their air patrol on June 30.
“During multiple flights over Iroquois Reef in the past week, pilots aboard NV-312, a Britten Norman Islander light patrol aircraft of the Philippine Navy, observed an alarming presence of Chinese fishing vessels,” it said.
It noted that the presence of these CFVs is visible from the air, based on the reports of the pilots of the patrol aircraft.
“The CFVs were observed to be anchored in groups of five to seven, and no fishing activities were noticed. They seem to just loiter in the area,” Wescom said.
These recent observations by the Britten Norman Islander patrol aircraft confirm earlier intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights conducted in the area, which indicated “an increasing trend of CFVs.”
In February, Wescom reported the sighting of only 12 CFVs, compared to the 47 spotted on June 12.
“Simultaneously with this surge at Iroquois Reef, an increased presence of Chinese maritime assets has also been noted at Sabina Shoal. Three China Coast Guard ships and two People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels are regularly loitering there compared to two wooden resupply boats from the Philippines and two Philippine Coast Guard vessels,” it said. “These developments raise an alarming concern about China’s intentions and actions within these disputed waters.“
Recto Bank, a significant feature for the Philippines holding immense potential for the country’s energy security and economic growth, “stands as a focal point in this rising concern over China’s recent behavior,” it added.
“Recto Bank is a vital feature within the Philippine’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and China must cease its swarming of vessels to respect our sovereign rights,” Wescom spokesperson, Navy Commander Ariel Coloma, said in an earlier statement.
Wescom said a detailed report on the incident would be forwarded to higher authorities “as a crucial step that aims to facilitate the potential filing of a diplomatic protest, reinforcing our commitment to safeguarding Philippine sovereignty and territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.” Philippine News Agency