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China maritime forces harass Philippine scientists anew

MANILA, Philippines — At least two cases of Chinese harassment at sea have been reported by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) – one involving disruption of a scientific research activity in the vicinity of Escoda Shoal, and the other an attempt to block the medical evacuation of a sick soldier from the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

At a press briefing yesterday, PCG Commodore Jay Tarriela said Chinese vessels disrupted the acoustic survey activities of scientists from the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) and Institute of Biology (UP-IB) in the vicinity of Escoda (Sabina) Shoal from June 3 to 6.

The scientists were assessing the extent of the damage to marine environment caused by global warming and by Chinese illegal and destructive activities in the West Philippine Sea.

The team, led by Dr. Fernando Siringan from the UP-MSI and Dr. Jonathan Anticamara from the UP-IB, said at the PCG conference that researchers discovered “more broken corals over time… that could be built into mounds.” 

Tarriela revealed Chinese naval forces performed “amphibious drills” near Escoda Shoal while the research was ongoing.

The People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN), during the scientific activity, “deployed one hovercraft with bow no. 3330 and broadcasted their intention to conduct amphibious drills in the area,” according to the PCG.

A CCG vessel with bow number 3303 repeatedly performed “dangerous maneuvers” and “blew horns” as the research team tried to sail toward BRP Teresa Magbanua, the PCG’s first 97-meter multi-role response vessel.

PLAN assets were seen 15 to 20 nautical miles from the location of the UP research team, said Tarriela.

He said it was “about time” for the Philippine government to support research activities in the West Philippine Sea to “document and manage (marine) resources and for us to understand the impact of climate change in corals.”

“We need marine scientists to help us understand our marine strategies and counter illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

“If China continues to prevent our research work, the damage and the decline and the slow recovery of corals can be due to China,” Anticamara said.