China now deploys drone in Bajo de Masinloc – PCG official

Aside from navy, coast guard, and militia vessels, the Chinese government has already started deploying a drone in Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag or Scarborough Shoal) in Zambales, marking the latest development in the heating up maritime row between Manila and Beijing.

Commo. Jay Tarriela, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson on the West Philippine Sea (WPS), said the drone that they have monitored during a recent patrol operation in Bajo de Masinloc was accompanied by four China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels identified as CCG 3063, 3054, 3302, and 3105; a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy ship, and four Chinese maritime militia.

CCG 3063 and 3064, according to Tarriela, were observed to be deploying floating barriers at the southeast entrance of Bajo de Masinloc every time a PCG or Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel is present in the area.

Meanwhile, CCG 3302 and 3105 were observed to be the ones that carry out dangerous maneuvers to prevent PCG and BFAR vessels from getting near Bajo de Masinloc, the official added.

“I think in this tally of Chinese government forces, what is interesting is that we documented a Chinese Coast Guard drone that flew over Bajo de Masinloc and it took off from CCG 3105,” Tarriela said in a media forum in Quezon City on Saturday, Feb. 17.

The lone PLA Navy ship was initially spotted at 28 nautical miles from the southeast entrance of Bajo de Masinloc. However, it came close to 18 nautical miles when a BFAR vessel patrolled the area on Feb. 15.

“It never entered a distance of 12 nautical miles which is the territorial sea of Bajo de Masinloc but I’m not sure if they chose not to enter the territorial sea of Bajo de Masinloc or what. As far as monitoring is concerned, they stop at a distance of 18 nautical miles, Tarriela said.

Further, the PCG official added: “Four Chinese maritime militia vessels are also documented who actively participated in blocking and carrying out dangerous maneuvers to prevent BFAR vessel in getting close to Bajo de Masinloc.”

It is not yet clear how the deployment of drone in Bajo de Masinloc will affect the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over Bajo de Masinloc. The shoal is located at 124 nautical miles west of Zambales which is within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and 200-nautical mile Philippine Continental Shelf.

But earlier this week, National Task Force on West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) Chairman and National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Año said that the PCG and BFAR were directed to conduct a rotational deployment of its vessels in Bajo de Masinloc beginning this February.

This is part of the national government’s efforts to protect the Filipino fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc who are often harassed by Chinese vessels, and to ensure food security in the country.

Around 275,520 metric tons of fish are being caught in the West Philippine Sea by Filipino fishermen which comprise six to seven percent of the national fisheries production, according to data from BFAR.

Of the number, around 20 to 30 percent are sourced from Bajo de Masinloc.