The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the China Coast Guard (CCG) had a brief encounter over the airwaves as they exchanged radio challenges on the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday, February 21.
According to the PCG, CCG vessel 5304 issued radio challenges to its Cessna Caravan 2081 aircraft twice during a routine maritime domain awareness (MDA) fly over the Sabina and Ayungin shoals, which are within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“As PCG Cessna Caravan 2081 approached the airspace over Sabina Shoal it received inaudible radio challenges, both in English and Chinese, from CCG-5304 currently continuing to maintain presence in the area. The PCG aircraft issued its own radio challenge emphasizing that it is conducting MDA flight within airspace over the Philippine EEZ and directing CCG-5304 to leave the area immediately,” the PCG said.
“[When the patrol] approached within ten nautical miles off Ayungin Shoal, CCG-5304 once again issued an unclear radio challenge. The PCG aircraft responded by repeating that it was conducting MDA flight in airspace within Philippine EEZ and again challenged CCG-5304 to leave the area immediately,” the also read.
The PCG also observed at least 26 suspected Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels anchored around Sabina Shoal, while CCG 5304 remained within one nautical mile of Ayungin with four more of the armed fishing fleet.
Throughout their MDA flight, PCG Cessna Caravan 2081 continued to issue radio challenges to CCG and suspected CMM vessels in the vicinity of the Ayungin and Sabina shoals.
The PCG ordered the CMM vessels to leave the Philippine EEZ immediately and advised their crew members that they’re not permitted to loiter or swarm its shoals or other claimed features.
PCG pilots also communicated patrol data and observations to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) officers stationed aboard BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57). This was done to assure the AFP officers of the unwavering support and immediate assistance that the PCG is capable of providing.
This latest incident occurred two weeks after CCG vessel 5205 pointed a military-grade laser light onto BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) while it was escorting a Philippine Navy resupply and rotation mission to Ayungin, where government forces are stationed on BRP Sierra Madre.
The PCG stated that the CCG’s aggressive play to block its vessel briefly blinded its bridge personnel.
“The presence of CCG vessels in Ayungin and Sabina shoals was further confirmed by their Automatic Identification System (AIS) signatures. AIS data processed by the PCG indicated that while CCG 5205—the vessel that harassed BRP Malapascua with weapons grade laser—had on February 8, 2023, departed the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) en route to Hainan, China, another CCG vessel, CCG 5304, continued to maintain presence in Ayungin Shoal to date,” the PCG further stated.
PCG commandant Adm. Artemio Abu said that as a result of these incidents, and to assure the public, they have ramped up their patrolling of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) using their assets.
“They can rely on the PCG and the AFP troops to realize the commitment of our president, that we will not abandon even a square inch of the territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power,” Abu said.