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Nearly 100 Chinese vessels spotted in Panatag

MANILA, Philippines - Almost 100 Chinese vessels have been spotted in the Panatag Shoal in Zambales province, which the Philippines finds "regrettable" because this happened despite China's previous assurance that it is working to de-escalate the situation in the disputed territory.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported that at 7 p.m. on Monday (May 21), five Chinese government vessels CMS-71, CMS-84, FLEC-301, FLEC-303 and FLEC-310 were spotted inside the shoal's lagoon along with 10 Chinese fishing boats.

Six more Chinese fishing boats were spotted outside the lagoon of the shoal, which is also called in the Philippines as Bajo de Masinloc.

The DFA added that also on May 21, 56 more utility boats were seen in the shoal, 27 of which were inside the lagoon and 29 were outside.

On Tuesday (May 22), the DFA said that 16 Chinese fishing vessels and 76 utility boats were spotted in the shoal.

"It is regrettable that these actions occurred at a time when China has been articulating for a de-escalation of tensions and while the two sides have been discussing how to defuse the situation in the area," the DFA said in a statement released to the local media.

It said that the Philippine government "protests these actions of China as clear violations of Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Shoal and sovereign rights over the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that covers the waters around Bajo de Masinloc."
The DFA added that China's actions also violate the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea.

"The recent actions of China are also in violation of the United Nations Charter, specifically Article 2.4, which provides the following: 'All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations,'" it added.

The DFA fears that the continuous entry of Chinese vessels in the Philippine-claimed shoal will continue to escalate the tension. It said that it has sent a Note Verbale to the Chinese government through its embassy in Manila on Monday.

"The increase in the number of China’s vessels in the area imperils the marine biodiversity in the shoal and threatens the marine ecosystem in the whole West Philippine Sea. The Philippines has documented the many instances where Chinese fishermen have unlawfully dredged the area and illegally harvested giant clams and corals," the DFA said.

Last month Philippine Navy personnel attempted to apprehend crew members of Chinese fishing vessels caught illegally fishing in the shoal. Navy personnel found where several endangered and protected marine species in the Chinese fishing vessels.

As the Navy personnel were approaching to apprehend the Chinese crewmen, two Chinese government vessels came into the picture and prevented the apprehension.

The Philippines has deployed vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to monitor the movement of Chinese vessels in the area.

The DFA has demanded the immediate pulling out of the Chinese vessels from the shoal and "for China to refrain from taking further actions that exacerbate the situation in the West Philippine Sea."

Amid the tension, the Philippine government said discussions to calm down the situation at the shoal are continuing.

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 The Philippine Star | May 23, 2012 | Article Link

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