Philippine Coast Guard Expands Patrols in Disputed Waters
After a spate of recent incidents in the region, the Philippine Coast Guard reported that it is increasing patrols in the hotly contested region which it calls the West Philippine Sea and the Kalayaan Island Group and which China claims as part of the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands. Other nations including Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam, also make claims in the region while the United States and others say it lies in international waters.
The Coast Guard reported that it has deployed its flagship, the 318-foot BRP Teresa Magbanua to the region in response to a directive of President Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr to strengthen and increase its presence and operations. The vessel was commissioned less than a year ago in May 2022 after having been built for the Philippines by Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. A second vessel in the class, which is based on a design developed for the Japan Coast Guard, was also commissioned in 2022.
BRP Teresa Magbanua reportedly began patrols in the region at the end of January 2023 (PCG)
The deployment reportedly began on January 28 with its official mission reported to be protecting Filipino fishing boats. The Coast Guard says the vessel is meeting up with fishing boats in the region to check on their safety and advise them on how to contact the Coast Guard if they require assistance. According to Coast Guard officials, they expect as the summer season begins that there will be a greatly increased number of Filipino fishing vessels operating in the area.
There was no direct mention of the vessel having been sent to the area in response to the recent laser light incident between the Chinese and Philippines coast guards. The Philippines contends that the Chinese shined lasers at one of their vessels on February 6 interfering with a supply convoy bound for a Filipino base. The Chinese rejected the Philippines’ accusations saying its crew used a handheld laser speed detector and handheld greenlight pointer to measure the speed and distance of the Filipino vessel. They asserted that it was done to “ensure navigational safety.”
Three days after the incident, the Philippine Coast Guard highlights that it encountered a Vietnamese fishing boat operating illegally in Philippine waters. They released a video showing the encounter reporting that when the Vietnamese vessel was challenged it withdrew its lines and departed the region. Rigid hull inflatable boats were deployed to confront the fishing boat and they are reporting that the patrol boat Teresa Magbanua escorted the fishing boat from the Philippines EEZ.
PANOORIN: Radio challenge ng BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701) sa isang Vietnamese-flagged fishing vessel sa katubigan ng Recto Bank noong ika-09 ng Pebrero 2023 pic.twitter.com/zQfc0mKr6g— Philippine Coast Guard (@coastguardph) February 17, 2023
The Philippine Coast Guard said in its statement that its enforcement operations will continue “firmly committed to safeguarding Philippine interests.” Speaking on local media, Coast Guard officers also used the recent incidents as a further demonstration of the need to continue the efforts to support the plans for the modernization of the PCG. They are calling for funds to acquire more offshore patrol boats so that they can continue the patrols of the Philippine EEZ.
Coast Guard confronted a Vietnamese fishing boat and escorted it from the disputed waters (PCG)