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26 suspected Chinese militia, coast guard vessels spotted near Ayungin Shoal — PCG

At least 26 suspected Chinese maritime militia and coast guard vessels have been spotted near Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, according to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

According to the PCG, photos from its Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) flight confirmed the continued presence of 26 suspected Chinese maritime militia and Chinese Coast Guard within the country’s maritime domain.

The Ayungin Shoal is located some 100 nautical miles off Palawan but is likewise near Mischief Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) reportedly occupied by China.

The PCG said they ordered China Coast Guard 5304 to leave the area in response to a Chinese and English radio challenge from the Chinese ship, highlighting that the MDA is being conducted over the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

GMA News Online has reached out to PCG spokesperson Rear Admiral Armando Balilo for further information.

In a separate statement, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said the PCG's Cessna Caravan 2081 flew over Ayungin and Sabina Shoals to observe and conduct radio challenges to Chinese coast guard vessels on Tuesday, February 21.

The PCG plane approached 10 nautical miles off Ayungin Shoal and issued a radio challenge over China Coast Guard 5304 to leave the area immediately.

However, the Chinese vessel issued an “unclear” radio challenge and maintained its presence in shoal, according to the NTF-WPS.

The NTF-WPS said China Coast Guard 5304 maintained a constant close distance of not more than one nautical mile from BRP Sierra Madre.

The PCG aircraft also noticed at least four Chinese militia vessels anchored inside the Ayungin Shoal, it said.

The PCG pilots relayed the patrol data and observations to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel stationed onboard BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) at Ayungin Shoal.

The NTF-WPS, citing the data of the PCG, said the Chinese coast guard vessel 5205 that pointed the “military-grade” laser light at the BRP Malapascua departed the Kalayaan Island Group en route to Hainan, China.

Some members of the PCG had suffered temporary blindness due to the laser.

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, however, said both the Philippine and Chinese sides should refrain from taking any provocative action in the disputed waters.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Manila, meanwhile, lodged a diplomatic protest against China on the incident. — BM, GMA Integrated News