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Coast Guard: Over 135 Chinese vessels ‘swarming’ Julian Felipe Reef

MANILA, Philippines — More than 135 Chinese maritime militia vessels were monitored in the vicinity of Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard reported Sunday. 

The PCG said it initially observed on November 13 111 Chinese vessels swarming the Julian Felipe Reef, which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group in the contested waterway.

The number of Chinese militia vessels rose to 125 based on the military’s monitoring, and by Saturday, over 135 boats were “dispersed and scattered” in the area, according to the Coast Guard. 

The PCG described the growing presence of Chinese vessels in the reef as an “alarming development.”

“No response was made to the radio challenges issued by the PCG to the CMM vessels,” it said, after deploying two boats to conduct patrols in the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef.

Julian Felipe Reef is located 175 nautical miles, or around 320 kilometers, west of Bataraza town in Palawan. The reef is more than 1,000 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese landmass of Hainan island.

Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan, commandant of the PCG, said the Coast Guard will consistently patrol the West Philippine Sea in collaboration with components of the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea. 

China asserts sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, despite an international court ruling in 2016 that deemed its stance to have no legal basis. — with report from Agence France-Presse