Chinese fishing fleet arrives in Spratlys; Navy on standby for deployment

A big fleet of Chinese fishing vessels arrived on July 15 at the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea amid rising tensions between neighboring countries Philippines and China. Said fleet, which left the Chinese province of Hainan on July 12, is composed of 30 fishing vessels.

The largest fleet ever launched from the province arrived near the Yongshu Reef Sunday afternoon, said state news agency Xinhua. Report said the fleet includes a 3,000-ton supply ship, along with a patrol vessel that provides protection to the ship. The fishing vessels are to spend five to 10 days in the area.

The fleet arrived after China rescued a stranded naval frigate four days earlier on a shoal in the Spratlys, near western Palawan. The Philippine government did not raise a diplomatic protest over the vessel stranded within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), saying that the incident was possibly an accident. Following the arrival of the Chinese fleet in the Spratly Islands, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expressed its readiness to assist the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) when the need to enforce the country’s maritime laws arises, but only if ordered by higher authorities.

“The maritime laws there (in the West Philippine Sea) are being enforced by the Philippine Coast Guard and whenever told to do so, we will be in the area,” said Armed Forces spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. in a press briefing.

China has asserted that the Spratlys, known as a possibly oil-rich archipelago, is part of its territory based on historical grounds and has claimed sovereign rights to the entire South China Sea—believed to rest atop rich deposits of oil and gas, including areas hundreds of kilometers from its own island and adjacent to the shorelines of other countries. The Spratlys are said to be among the biggest island chains in the area.

However, China and Philippines are not alone in the dispute. Other neighboring countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia have also expressed claims on some parts of the South China Sea.

Months before, the Philippines and China were in dispute after the former caught a Chinese vessel engaged in illegal fishing in the Panatag Shoal, which is internationally known as Scarborough shoal. Panatag Shoal is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in the province of Zambales and is inside the boundaries of the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines as provided by international laws.

It has been said that Chinese fishing boats regularly travel to the disputed islands.