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China-flagged research vessel turned ID system off — AFP info

The Chinese-flagged research vessel spotted on the waters of Bicol and Eastern Visayas turned off its automatic identification system (AIS) as it sailed without prior coordination with Philippine authorities, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Thursday.

According to Jun Veneracion's report on 24 Oras, the AFP will continue conducting maritime patrols even after confirming that the Chinese vessel Shen Kuo has already left Philippine territory.

"I cannot speculate on why they did it, but, of course, turning it off means not being detected," said AFP spokesperson Col. Margareth Francel Padilla.

The AIS provides locational positions on ships, and is used by other vessels, ports, and many other organizations from banks and traders for search and rescue operations, according to the Reuters news agency.

The AFP has been monitoring the unauthorized presence of the Shen Kuo since it was first spotted on April 25, Thursday, at 60.9 nautical miles east of Rapu-Rapu Island in Albay.

The vessel was found to be lying-to in the area and had no personnel on the main deck, based on April 27 reports from the maritime patrol of the Tactical Operations Wing Southern Luzon (TOWSOL).

Several attempts to contact the Shen Kuo through regular channels were unsuccessful, the AFP earlier said, "indicating a lack of responsiveness or willingness to engage."

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) later reported that the vessel departed from Shenzhen Port on April 13 and passed through Itbayat and Basco, Batanes on April 22.

The Shen Kuo then moved southward within 11 nautical miles off the coast of Mapanas, Northern Samar on April 25, before traveling north again until it reached the waters off Catanduanes.

Although there were indications that the Shen Kuo conducted marine research in the area, the Philippine Navy said this did not violate the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 24 Oras report said.

"As of this morning, Shen Kuo was monitored to have left the area of responsibility of Visayas Command," said Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea.

"Nakalabas na 'yun, nakalabas na sa Pilipinas (It has already left, it is outside Philippine territory)," Trinidad said.

Aside from the Shen Kuo, the AFP said it was continuously monitoring three other research vessels at the West Philippine Sea.

After being spotted near Ayungin Shoal on April 21, the three ships departed the area on April 25.

As of May 1, Wednesday, these were monitored near Pag-Asa Island, Palawan.

The Philippines, United States, and France are currently conducting Balikatan joint military exercises at the West Philippine Sea, parts of which overlap with China's expansive claim over the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, in the wake of latest water cannon attack by China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels on Philippine civilian vessels en route to Scarborough Shoal, the Philippine Navy underscored the continuing need to strengthen the country's defense capability.

"Kailan matatapos ang lahat ng ito? (When will this all end?) It's when the AFP has achieved credible defense posture," said Philippine Navy spokesperson Commander John Percie Alcos. — VDV, GMA Integrated News