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Philippine Navy Spots Swarm of 200 Chinese Vessels at Mischief Reef

File image: Chinese flotilla at Iroquois Reef, 2003 (Armed Forces of the Philippines)
File image: Chinese flotilla at Iroquois Reef, 2003 (Armed Forces of the Philippines)

Published Feb 1, 2024 5:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Philippine government has expressed unease at the assembly of a flotilla of 200 Chinese maritime militia trawlers and China Coast Guard vessels at Mischief Reef, a military base that China has constructed inside the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. 

Mischief Reef is located just 20 nautical miles from Second Thomas Shoal, a Philippine-controlled land feature that is the scene of frequent confrontations between Chinese and Philippine forces. The base at Mischief Reef has been used previously as a supply and staging point for the Chinese government vessels that resist Philippine resupply convoys for the garrison at Second Thomas Shoal. 

A spokesman for the Philippine Navy says that about 15 China Coast Guard vessels and another 200-odd maritime militia fishing vessels have been spotted at Mischief Reef. This is an unusually substantial force, though not unprecedented. Chinese militia trawlers have previously swarmed at other flash points in the Spratly Islands, like Reed Bank. 

"Every now and then they get deployed all over the South China Sea… At any time, they will be moving, some of them will be anchored, especially the maritime militia, so it is difficult to give you the exact number at an exact point in time," Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad told a press conference Tuesday. 

The Philippine Coast Guard continues to plan resupply missions for the outpost at Second Thomas Shoal. The last delivery mission was conducted by airplane, reflecting the difficulty that China has created for seaborne transport to and from the installation.