TWO Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships have been deployed to an area in the West Philippine Sea where a Philippine Navy ship was “shadowed” by Chinese maritime militia vessels last week.
Philippine authorities have yet to confirm this, but American defense and security expert Raymond Powell said based on automatic tracking system (ATS), one of the Parola-class patrol vessels of the PCG, the BRP Malapascua, was monitored leaving Buliluyan Port in Palawan Friday morning, February 3. It stayed briefly off Loaita Bank before proceeding to Pag-asa (Thitu) Island.
The following day, the BRP Teresa Magbanua, which was last seen on January 22 east of Palawan, abruptly appeared on the automatic tracking system. It was seen anchored off Pag-asa Island.
“BRP Teresa Magbanua suddenly appeared around 6:50 am Manila time on Feb. 4, but again turned off its AIS around 8 a.m. Manila time. BRP Malapascua arrived from Palawan on Feb. 4 at 8 p.m.; and 2 [People's Republic of China] maritime militia ships were posted to the west, one within an uncomfortable 2.5 kilometers,” Powell said on Twitter.
On February 1, the Philippine Navy ship BRP Andres Bonifacio started its journey from Palawan to a point off Loaita Bank, or about 60 kilometers from Pag-asa Island.
During this trip, the BRP Bonifacio was “monitored and tailed” by at least four Chinese ships — a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel and three Chinese maritime militias.
Two of the Chinese maritime militia ships, Qiong Lin Yu 19002 and Qiong Sansha Yu 00001, came from Subi Reef and joined CCG 5205 at Loaita Bank. A “mysterious” fourth ship, Gui Fang Yu 93857, turned off its automatic identification system (AIS) transponder shortly after joining the three other vessels, said Powell.
PCG spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo said the BRP Andres Bonifacio was conducting a patrol and search mission.
The CCG 5205 was also surveying the scene of the Philippine ships' activity the day prior, said Powell in a tweet.
CCG 5205 then returned to Mischief after following the Philippine ship's general path east, even going as far as Jackson Atoll.
Just hours prior to the arrival of BRP Malapascua from Palawan on February 3, two of the Chinese maritime militia ships returned to Subi Reef, leaving Gui Fang Yu 93857 alone with another militia vessel, Qiong Sansha Yu 00219, in Pag-asa Island.
Later that same day, the mysterious Chinese ship turned off its AIS, Powell said.
As of Feb. 6, 1:20 p.m. Manila time, BRP Malapascua remained stationary just north of Sabina Shoal. CCG 5205, on the other hand, “went dark” or has switched off its AIS transponder after moving into the Philippine ship's previous path toward Palawan, he said.
“This entire latter sequence is surreal, and whatever happened requires a more complete explanation than I can provide,” said Powell, who heads the Project Myoushu Team of Stanford University's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.
Philippine authorities have yet to issue any comments about the latest cat-and-mouse game in the West Philippine Sea.
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