Manila, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Saturday said it has monitored a fleet of 38 Chinese vessels – the biggest so far – within the vicinity of Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela disclosed that they spotted China’s fleet during the latest resupply mission for the BRP Sierra Madre on Friday, November 10, when the China Coast Guard (CCG) also drenched a military-commissioned boat using the water cannon.
“As to the number of Chinese vessels who are present within the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal, I think it is clear to say that this is the highest number,” Tarriela said during a press conference in Pasay City.
“In total, we can say that there are a total of 38 Chinese vessels [that] were present in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal during this particular resupply mission,” he added.
Of the 38 ships, Tarriela said 28 are suspected to belong to the Chinese maritime militia (CMM) while five are from the CCG. He added that the remaining five are warships of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy.
But the PCG official pointed out that most of them did not “actively participate” in the “deployment” of water cannon against the Philippine ships on Friday.
“There were only six CMM which were actively participating in the blocking operations, and there were five China Coast Guard vessels,” Tarriela said.
“So all in all, there were 11 who actively participated in carrying out dangerous maneuvers to PCG vessels and also supply boats,” he also said.
On Friday, the PCG deployed three vessels including the BRP Melchora Aquino – which is currently PCG’s largest multi role response vessel – to escort resupply boats M/L Kalayaan and Unaizah May 2 en route to the BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal.
A CCG vessel tried but failed to prevent the resupply mission from continuing its journey toward the sandbank where a small military contingent is stationed aboard the grounded World War II ship.
The BRP Sierra Madre was grounded on Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to assert Manila’s claim on the sandbank, which is located about 194 kilometers (105 nautical miles) from Palawan province and well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Beijing’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea are based on its belief that it owns nearly the entire South China Sea, although a July 2016 Arbitral Award effectively dismissed such claims of China.