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China blocks PH vessel going to Bajo de Masinloc

The China Coast Guard (CCG) on Thursday blocked a Philippine vessel going to Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea. 

In a video posted by GMA Integrated News' John Consulta on Facebook on Saturday, it could also be seen that the CCG deployed a new floating barrier in the area to prevent the passage of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel BRP Datu Sanday. 

The vessel was carrying diesel and aid for Filipino fisherfolk in Bajo de Masinloc.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also released drone footage of the incident which took place at around 8 a.m. on February 22, 2024. 

It showed CCG ship 3105 and a Chinese vessel blocking the BRP Datu Sanday from reaching the area.

The CCG ship traveled in reverse just to block BRP Datu Sanday's path three times, which prompted the Philippine vessel to issue a radio challenge. The Chinese Navy then deployed a helicopter from its warship to monitor the BFAR vessel and the Filipino fishermen in the area.

In response, the BFAR also deployed a Cessna plane to monitor the alleged harassment conducted by the CCG.

According to John Consulta’s 24 Oras Weekend report on Saturday, a Chinese fishing vessel was also spotted 50 meters away from the BFAR vessel.

At least seven Chinese vessels blocked the path towards Bajo de Masinloc.

“This is the first time that the Philippine Government monitored the presence of a Chinese fishing vessel [that] participated in [the] blocking and shadowing operation to prevent [the] BFAR vessel from moving forward or getting closer to Bajo de Masinloc,” said PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela.

It took BFAR’s vessel up to two hours to break free from the blocking Chinese vessels and proceed to the Bajo de Masinloc to distribute aid to 44 fishing boats in Bajo de Masinloc.

The BRP Datu Sanday then anchored 200 meters from the shoreline of Bajo de Masinloc, the nearest it has reached since its rotational deployment.

However, the CCG deployed a rubber boat and monitored their movements.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the PCG is set to continue the PCG-BFAR rotational deployment to Bajo de Masinloc to strengthen protection efforts against cyanide fishing and other threats to the area.

The CCG previously removed a floating barrier it had installed at the Bajo de Masinloc, but removed it when BFAR officials provided supplies to Filipino fisherfolk in the area.

The CCG last September installed an estimated 300-meter-long floating barrier in the southeast portion of Bajo de Masinloc, preventing Filipino fishermen from entering the area.

The barrier was removed by the PCG, citing a hazard to navigation and a “clear violation of international law.”

The PCG in early February reported that eight Chinese vessels shadowed and engaged local vessels at the Bajo de Masinloc during a nine-day patrol.

The Philippines earlier announced that it would conduct a rotational deployment of its BFAR and PCG vessels in Bajo de Masinloc starting this February to protect its fishermen.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have heightened in recent months as both sides trade accusations over a series of incidents in the West Philippine Sea.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Parts of the waters within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone have been renamed as West Philippine Sea.

In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said China's claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected. —Jamil Santos and Jiselle Anne Casucian/VAL/KG/DVM, GMA Integrated News