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28 Chinese vessels spotted around Scarborough Shoal - Philippine Navy

MANILA – (UPDATE, 2 p.m.) The Philippine Navy on Tuesday belied reports that China withdrew its ships from the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Based on a report following an aerial surveillance by a Navy Islander plane, Navy flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said that as of 2 p.m. Monday, a total of 28 Chinese vessels and boats were spotted in and outside the lagoon.

This consists of three China maritime surveillance (CMS) vessels, two Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) ships, six fishing boats, and 17 dinghies.

Of this number, the six fishing boats and 17 dinghies were spotted inside the lagoon itself.
No Philippine ships are in Scarborough Shoal after the government withdrew the vessels due to bad weather.

The Navy report was contrary to the statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday that there were no more Chinese ships inside the lagoon itself. The DFA issued the same statement Tuesday afternoon.

The withdrawal of all types of vessels from inside the lagoon was part of the agreement between the two countries reached through diplomatic negotiations. 

The withdrawal of vessels from outside the lagoon and around the shoal is still to be negotiated, the DFA had said. 

Diplomatic sources said the Chinese ships are expected to leave the area as soon as weather permits. The shoal is a known sanctuary for fishermen caught in a storm in the West Philippine Sea.

Asked if China was lying based on this report, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said: "We would not cast judgment."

Gazmin said he would recommend that Philippine vessels return to the shoal once weather improves. 

The rainy season with its attendant typhoons has prompted President Benigno Aquino III on June 15 to call both the Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources survey ship to shore. 

China and the Philippines have remained in a standoff since April 10, when the Philippines' only warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar tried to enforce Philippine environmental laws on Chinese fishermen caught in the lagoon poaching and harvesting endangered marine species. China reacted and sent its maritime and fisheries ships in order to protect its fishermen. 

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