[UPDATED] Defense and security officials in Palawan have confirmed an earlier report that a China Coast Guard vessel on Sunday morning, November 20, intercepted a Philippine naval boat and “forcefully” retrieved from them a large piece of metal debris suspected to be part of a Chinese satellite rocket that they were trying to tow back to Pag Asa island for inspection.
A spot report obtained by Palawan News from the Kalayaan municipal police stated that a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel with the marking BN 5203 pursued and twice tried to block the rubber boat manned by personnel of the Naval Station Emilio Liwanag (NSEL) as it was towing the metal debris they had recovered from Cay 1, a sandbar just off the Pag-asa Island.
After blocking the Philippine Navy’s rubber boat, the CCG reportedly launched a rigid hull-inflated boat that cut off the cable securing the debris and took off with it.
In a separate statement, Western Command (WESCOM) commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, narrated that CCG personnel “forcefully” retrieved the floating object from the possession of the Philippine naval personnel by cutting the towing attached to the debris.
The incident occurred some 2 to 3 nautical miles off Pag-asa Island, the largest land feature occupied by the Philippines as part of its territory, according to the police report.
The PNP report also added that the Chinese fired artillery rounds from Subi Reef two hours after the incident at sea, with their sound being heard by the local population of Pag Asa.
“After two hours since then (the encounter at sea), they were able to hear some repetitive sounds that they believe came from artillery guns/weapons on the Subi Reef,” the report stated.
Vice Admiral Carlos said the floating debris was first noticed by police and military personnel from Pag-asa Island using a long-range camera as it floated some 800 yards west of the island.
“They immediately proceeded to the area for ocular inspection. As observed by the team while en route, the object was drifting towards Pag-asa Island’s Cay 1 sand bar due to strong waves and currents,” Carlos said.
“Upon arrival, the team immediately retrieved the floating object, tied it securely to their boat, and started towing it back to NSEL. However, as the NSEL Team was towing the floating object, they noticed that a China Coast Guard vessel with Bow Number 5203 was approaching their location and subsequently blocked their pre-plotted course twice. CCGV5203 then deployed its Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB),” he added.
The incident occurred as preparations were underway in Palawan for the planned visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday, November 22. State Department officials earlier explained that Harris’s visit to Palawan is intended to show support for the Philippines as an ally.