Chinese Coast Guard, joined by its naval warships, and two Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessels, were patrolling the West Philippine Sea when they had a tense confrontation just seven miles off Pag-Asa Island, which is the main territory occupied by the Philippines in the area.
A report released on Friday by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCC) stated that BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4402) and BRP Malabrigo (MRRV-4403) were on a 7-day patrol in compliance with a Malacañang directive when they came upon about 100 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels, a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) corvette class, and two China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels in the territory claimed by the Philippines as part of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The PCG statement described the incident as a “confrontation.”
“On April 21, 2023, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy vessel with bow number 549 crossed paths with the PCG vessels. The confrontation took place at a distance of 7 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island,” the report stated.
“The encounter began when the Chinese gray ship challenged the presence of the PCG vessels over the radio and directed them to leave the area. The Chinese navy issued a warning to the PCG, suggesting that failure to comply might “cause problems”, it stated.
BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo were on a patrol mission scheduled for April 18-24 to cover the waters off Sabina Shoal, Iroquis Reef, Lawak, Patag, Likas, Parola, Pag-asa, Tizzard Bank, Julian Felipe Reef, and Ayungin Shoal when the incident took place.
“Eighteen Chinese maritime militia vessels were detected near Sabina Shoal. Despite the numerous radio challenges by the two PCG vessels, the CMM did not respond or comply with the order to leave the area immediately,” the PCG reported.
It also stated that four Chinese fishing militia vessels, which appeared to be engaged in fishing activities, were successfully driven away by the PCG vessels from the territorial sea of Pag-asa, at a distance of four nautical miles.
“Notably, seventeen groups of CMM were observed in the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef, with an estimated total count exceeding 100 vessels. In response, the PCG vessels deployed their Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) to disperse the large CMM gathering. However, no CMM vessels reacted or made any attempts to vacate the area,” it said.
The close encounter with the Chinese naval ship reported happened on April 21, 2023, when a Chinese PLAN vessel with bow number 549 crossed paths with the PCG vessels. The confrontation took place at a distance of 7 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island.
“The encounter began when the Chinese gray ship challenged the presence of the PCG vessels over the radio and directed them to leave the area. The Chinese navy issued a warning to the PCG, suggesting that failure to comply might ’cause problems,’ the PCG report stated.
“On the morning of April 23, 2023, two Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels intercepted the PCG vessels that were in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal. CCG vessel 5201 and 4202 exhibited aggressive tactics towards BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo, respectively,” it added.
CCG vessel 5201 was reported to have carried out dangerous maneuvers near BRP Malapascua, maintaining a perilous distance of only 50 yards. This close proximity posed a significant threat to the safety and security of the Philippine vessel and its crew. Meanwhile, the CCG vessel 4202 persistently followed BRP Malabrigo at a distance of 700 yards, closely monitoring its movements.
The PCG has already submitted a report to the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS), highlighting the presence of a Chinese warship, the continued appearance of alleged CMM vessels within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as well as the aggressive actions of the CCG against PCG vessels.