The Philippines on Sunday slammed the Chinese coast guard for allegedly installing a 'floating barrier' in the disputed South China that is apparently preventing Filipino boats to enter a shoal, marking the latest confrontation between the two Asian countries over territorial claims in the area.
"The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) strongly condemn the China Coast Guard’s (CCG’s) installation of floating barrier in the Southeast portion of Bajo de Masinloc (BDM), which prevents Filipino Fishing Boats (FFBs) from entering the shoal and depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities," said PCG spokesperson Jay Tarriela in a statement on social media platform X.
He further said that the floating barrier found in the area was estimated at a length of 300 metres and was discovered during routine maritime patrolling by PCG and BFAR personnel on Friday. Three Chinese Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) and Chinese maritime militia's boat installed the barrier upon the arrival of BFAR boat near the shoal.
"It was reported by the Filipino fishermen that the CCG vessels usually install floating barriers whenever they monitor a large number of Filipino fishermen in the area," Tarriela further said in the statement, adding that BFAR provided the fishermen with various grocery items and fuel subsidies to sustain their operations.
Additionally, four Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels initaited 15 radio challenges to drive away the BFAR vessel and Filipino boats. The CCG alleged that the presence of the BFAR vessel and Filipino fishermen violated international law and the domestic laws of China, said Tarriela. The Chinese boats moved away after realising the presence of media personnel.
The Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard has expressed his commitment to support the BFAR and government agencies to ensure the safety and security of Filipino fishermen. China has not commented publicly on the issue.
Philippines accused China of destroying coral reefs
Earlier this week, the PCG shared pictures of destroyed and bleached coral reefs in the South China Sea, accusing China of massive destruction in the area. The PCG spokesperson said that the presence of such crushed corals suggests a "potential act of "dumping" - implying the same corals were processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed, CNN reported.
“The continued swarming for the indiscriminate illegal and destructive fishing activities of the Chinese maritime militia in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the marine environment in the [West Philippine Sea] features,” Tarriela said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry refuted the allegations levelled by the Philippines as "false and groundless".
Confrontations in the South China Sea
China claims ownership over virtually the entire strategic waterway despite international rulings that invalidated Beijing's vast territorial claims, such as that in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international body based in The Hague. China rejects that ruling.
The Philippines and China are particularly locked into the conflicted over the disputed area, after Beijing's repeated provocations against Filipino boats. Last month, the Chinese Coast Guard allegedly used a water cannon to block a Filipino supply boat from delivering a new batch of troops, food, water and fuel to the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed waters.
Chinese ships had blocked and shadowed navy vessels delivering food and other supplies to the Filipino sailors on the ship in the shoal, which Chinese coast guard ships and a swarm of Chinese fishing boats — suspected to be manned by militias — have surrounded for years.
The disputes in the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest sea lanes, have long been regarded as an Asian flashpoint as disputes continue between China and other countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.