Philippines coast guard says it's monitoring more than 135 Chinese vessels 'swarming' within the South China Sea

Philippines coast guard says it's monitoring more than 135 Chinese vessels 'swarming' within the South China Sea

Monday 04/12/2023
Chinese coast guard and suspected Chinese militia vessels blocked a Philippine coast guard ship as they approach the disputed Second Thomas Shoal during a resupply mission.(AP: Joeal Calupitan)

The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) says more than 135 Chinese vessels are "swarming" at a reef off its coast, describing the boats' growing presence as "alarming".

The Chinese boats were "dispersed and scattered" within the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef, which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe Reef, around 320 kilometres west of Palawan Island, the coast guard said.

The PCG said its chief has ordered patrols in the vicinity of the reef, Reuters reported.

"The PCG maintains its unwavering commitment to safeguarding maritime security, safety and the marine environment in the course of protecting the territorial integrity, sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea," it said in a statement.

Whitsun Reef is more than 1,000 km from the nearest major Chinese landmass of Hainan island.

The PCG said it counted 111 "Chinese maritime militia vessels" (CMM) on November 13.

When the PCG deployed two patrol boats to the area on Saturday the number had increased to "more than 135", the coast guard said.

"No response was made to the radio challenges issued by the PCG to the CMM vessels which is now estimated to have grown to more than 135 vessels dispersed and scattered within Julian Felipe Reef," the Manila's coast guard said.

Manila's coast guard has described it as an "alarming development".

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, including waters and islands close to the shores of its neighbours.

It has also ignored an international tribunal decision that its assertion has no legal basis.

It deploys vessels to patrol the waters, and has built artificial islands and military installations to reinforce its stance.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have also staked claims to various islands and reefs in the sea, which is believed to have rich petroleum reserves deep beneath its waters.

By ABC/Wires

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