PCG mum on China Coast Guard’s reported shadowing of US, Japanese ships

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) refused to confirm reports that the China Coast Guard (CCG) shadowed ships from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and Japan Coast Guard (JCG) while en route to Manila for the “Kaagapay” trilateral maritime exercise.

348377626_1606635989814083_3736254643990875052_n.jpg ***Officials from the Philippine Coast Guard, United States Coast Guard, and Japan Coast Guard give updates on the status of the ongoing Kaagapay trilateral maritime exercise at the Rizal Park Hotel in Manila on June 3, 2023. (L-R) Present were*** ***Capt. Antonio Sontillanosa Jr., commanding officer of*** ***BRP Melchora Aquino; Capt. Brian Krautler, commanding officer of USCG Cutter Stratton; Capt. Jaybom*** ***Calico******, commanding officer of BRP Gabriela Silang; and Capt. Miura Atsushi, director of Japan*** ***Coast Guard International Cooperation International Strategy Division Administration Department. (Photo courtesy of PCG)***

PCG spokesperson Rear Adm. Armando Balilo opted to remain silent about the reported incident supposedly involving the USCG Cutter Stratton (WMSL-752), JCG vessel Akitsushima (PLH-32), and unidentified CCG vessels.

“Tanungin niyo na lang kung na-shadow sila ng China Coast Guard (Just ask them if they were shadowed by the China Coast Guard),” Balilo said, referring to the officials of the USCG and JCG who attended a press briefing at the Rizal Park Hotel in Manila on Saturday, June 3.

“Maganda na sa kanila na manggaling (It’s good if it comes directly from them),” he added.

The US and Japanese coast guards’ vessels arrived in Manila last June 1 for the first ever “Kaagapay” trilateral maritime exercise between the PCG, USCG and JCG. The landmark exercise gathered around 500 personnel from the three countries as they perform an array of drills meant to enhance their interoperability until June 7.

But while on their way to the Philippines, Stratton and Akitsushima reportedly had been spotted and shadowed by CCG vessels.

Asked for a comment, Capt. Brian Krautler, commanding officer of Stratton, and Capt. Miura Atsushi, director of Japan’s Coast Guard International Cooperation International Strategy Division Administration Department, gave vague details about the matter.

Krautler said that Stratton’s last stop before arriving in Manila last June 1 was in Singapore where they “interacted” with a number of foreign vessels, including the CCG.

“For the United States, obviously our last stop was Singapore. It is the maritime crossroads of the world and so we have interacted, since we’ve been out in the Western Pacific, with ships of many different nations including the China Coast Guard,” Krautler said.

The American officer did not mention any shadowing incident involving Stratton and the CCG.

Krautler even assured that all of their interactions with other foreign vessels have been "safe and professional.”

Capt. Miura, on the other hand, refrained from commenting on the issue although he stressed that maintaining maritime order should be a priority not only of Japan, Philippines, and United States but of the entire world.

The Japanese officer insisted that Akitsushima never encroached on any nation’s territory while it was sailing in the Southeast Asia.

“With regards to the trip voyage taken by our patrol vessel Akitsushima, this is something that we conduct twice a year. These are deemed as anti-piracy patrols that we conduct in the Southeast Asian region. It is a regular sea route that we take as in the widely used sea lanes, and so we do not encroach upon the jurisdiction areas of other countries,” Miura said.

"We believe that the most important point is to maintain maritime order. In order to do so, there are limitations in what one country’s coast guard can do," he added.

China's shadowing of vessels in the West Philippine Sea is no longer a new thing. The Asian superpower has been flexing its might by deploying navy and coast guard ships, as well as a flotilla of maritime militia vessels to assert its claim in the tension-filled waters and drive away other foreign vessels.

In March 2022, a CCG vessel shadowed BRP Malabrigo, a PCG vessel, while it was conducting a maritime patrol operation in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), Zambales.

This was followed by the shadowing of another CCG vessel on a Filipino fishing boat in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratly Islands) in January of this year.

The PCG earlier clarified that the Kaagapay exercise was not established to form any alliance that would counter China’s aggression in the WPS.