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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE: 6:44PM) China has sent another ship to the Scarborough Shoal area, where Philippine and Chinese forces have been in a standoff over fishing rights since April 10. This, as the Philippine research ship complained of by China and a Coast Guard vessel have left the area.
The Yuzheng 310, China’s fastest fishery administration vessel, sailed from Guangzhou for Scarborough (also called Panatag by the Philippines), according to China state media.
China had earlier rejected the Philippine proposal to raise the dispute over Scarborough to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
Even as China sent the Yuzheng 310 to the West Philippine Sea, the French-manned Philippine vessel tasked to do research off Scarborough Shoal, has pulled out of the disputed area, a military official said on Thursday.
Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) chief Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara on Thursday said the MY Sarangani, a vessel rented by the National Museum to conduct archeological research, and one of the two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships, left Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal Wednesday night.
“One of our Coast Guard ships, the SARV 003, and the vessel rented by the National Museum left the area last night and maybe today they are already in Manila,” Alcantara said in a phone interview.
“So, we have only one ship left in the area, the Coast Guard’s SARV 002,” he added.
Pressed why the SARV 003 had to leave to area, Alcantara said the ship needs re-provisioning of fuel and food supplies.
“The two maritime surveillance ships (71 and 84) of China are still in the area along with three other unidentified foreign vessels believed to be from China also,” Alcantara said.
Asked why the Coast Guard was not apprehending the three foreign vessels, Alcantara said: “We’re waiting for orders.”
“Anyway, the situation in the area is very peaceful,” Alcantara said.
Last Monday, Alcantara visited the officers and men of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar under the command of Capt. Alberto Cruz, and relayed orders to them from higher headquarters.
The warship, formerly the Hamilton-class cutter of the United States Coast Guard, is the largest vessel so far available in the inventory of the Philippine Navy. It is on dock together with the much smaller British-made Peacock warship at the Poro Point in La Union, where it proceeded after pulling out of the area in Scarborough, where it got caught up in a stalemate with three Chinese maritime surveillance ships that blocked it from apprehending eight Chinese fishing boats..
Debate over territory rages
Diplomats of the Philippines and China continue to trade accusations and challenges over territorial jurisdiction of the Panatag Shoal.
China, however, refused to the Philippines’s challenge to raise the matter before the United Nations’ International Tribunal.on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the disputed maritime area is situated well within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and about 165 nautical miles west of Zambales province.
The furor over the archaeological ship M/Y Sarangani came close on the heels of a naval stalemate that began on April 10, when the Philippine Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar sailed to Scarborough and encountered eight Chinese fishing boats filled with whale sharks, clams and endangered species. The Navy team’s attempt to apprehend the shipment was blocked by a Chinese maritime surveillance ship that arrived at the mouth of the lagoon, and later backed up later by two other similar surveillance ships.
The BRP Del Pilar later withdrew from the site for “operational reasons” and was replaced by a Coast Guard vessel that, however, failed to prevent the Chinese fishing boats from exiting. No arrests were made and the Chinese were able to bring their allegedly illegal shipments.
Two days later, the Chinese claimed the MY Sarangani is salvaging an ancient Chinese wreck ship in Scarborough and demanded that it leave the area.
Beijing also reiterated its call for the Philippine government ship to leave the shoal that is 124 miles off Masinloc, Zambales, or well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) mandated by the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard vessel left in the disputed area has spotted three other "foreign" fishing vessels but details are still sketchy at this time, Nolcom chief Alcantara said. He said the situation in the area remains "stable" with "no unusual incident."