The Philippines said on Sunday that a “swarm” of more than 135 Chinese boats had spread around a coral reef area it claims, considering this massive presence “worrying.”
Chinese boats are scattered around Whitsun Reef, which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe Reef, about 320 kilometers west of Palawan Island, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
This boomerang-shaped reef is located more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s first noticeable landmass, Hainan Island. It is part of the Spratly Archipelago, which is claimed by China, the Philippines and several other countries bordering the South China Sea.
The Philippine Coast Guard, which had already spotted 111 vessels belonging to the so-called “Chinese maritime militia” in the area on November 13, counted “more than 135” when it deployed two patrol vessels on Saturday, they added.
They added that “there was no response to radio calls made by the Philippine Coast Guard” to the Chinese ships.
Pictures published by the Coast Guard show the ships lined up in formation, while others are scattered in the water.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond when contacted by AFP.
A precedent in 2021
As of 2021, about 210 Chinese vessels have been stationed near Whitsun Reef for several weeks, according to the Philippine government.
Beijing claimed that these ships were fishing boats taking shelter from bad weather, but Manila rejected this explanation, saying that there were no storms during the period in question.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters and islands near the coasts of its neighbors, and has ignored an international court ruling in 2016 that the claim had no legal basis.
China regularly deploys ships to patrol disputed waters and has built military artificial islands to strengthen its position.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim many reefs and islets in this sea, which are believed to contain rich oil reserves.
The Philippines announced on Friday the establishment of a coast guard station on the largest island it controls in the South China Sea, to enhance monitoring of Chinese ships.
This center will be equipped with “advanced systems,” including radars, satellite communications, coastal cameras, and maritime traffic management systems, National Security Advisor Eduardo Ano said during a visit to Thito Island.
Construction has already been completed, and the station is expected to be operational early next year.
“Total coffee aficionado. Travel buff. Music ninja. Bacon nerd. Beeraholic.”