A Chinese warship along with other paramilitary vessels have been spotted by the Philippine Coast Guard at Scarborough Shoal, where the Philippine patrol unit was challenged by Chinese Coast Guard personnel.
China had been exercising de facto control over the shoal since a standoff with Philippine forces in 2012, but sightings of Chinese Navy vessels were “very rare,” and this is the “first time” that a Chinese warship had moved so close to the lagoon.
Coast Guard Spokesman Capt. Armand Balilo said the Chinese Navy ship was only about 12 nautical miles from the Scarborough Shoal, adding the ship was in the company of Chinese Coast Guard vessels and paramilitary ships.
A Philippine Coast Guard vessel, BRP Malabrigo (MRRV 4402), conducted a four-day patrol in the Scarborough Shoal known locally as Bajo de Masinloc and its surrounding waters from Thursday up to Sunday.
During the patrol, Philippine Coast Guard personnel saw two Chinese Coast Guard ships, the frigate and two Chinese militia boats moving at the “end” of shoal’s waters.
The Coast Guard patrol also saw the presence of three Filipino fishing vessels.
Balilo said that during the patrol, Malabrigo was challenged by the two Chinese Coast Guard ships, with Chinese officials asking questions, among others, about the purpose of its presence in the shoal.
“Except with the regular questioning, nothing untoward happened during the four days,” the Philippine Coast Guard said in a post.
Asked about the presence of a Chinese military ship in Scarborough, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said this was “not the first time” that Chinese Navy vessels have been spotted in the area.
China controls the shoal, although the Philippines maintains it has not lost it to the Chinese. This, even though it can only manage to send civilian ships in the area while Chinese military and paramilitary ships prowl and maintain their presence in the shoal.