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China Coast Guard Cuts Off Philippine Cutter at Scarborough Shoal

Two China Coast Guard vessels cut across the bow of BRP Theresa Magbanua (PCG)
Two China Coast Guard vessels cut across the bow of BRP Teresa Magbanua (PCG)

Published Feb 11, 2024 3:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

Chinese forces have been closely shadowing the Philippine Coast Guard at Scarborough Shoal, according to the PCG, and have exhibited a pattern of "dangerous and blocking maneuvers" to interfere with routine patrols. The behavior is standard for interactions near Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippine military maintains an outpost, but it is a recent development at Scarborough Shoal. 

Over the course of nine days, the PCG vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua visited Scarborough Shoal on a regular patrol of the Philippine EEZ. The reef is an important destination for Philippine fishermen, but is occupied by China, despite the 2016 arbitral award that confirmed Manila's control of resources within its 200 nm line. 

According to the PCG, the China Coast Guard vessels CCG 3105, 3302, 3063, and 3064 shadowed the Magbanua on more than 40 occasions over the span of the patrol. Four Chinese maritime militia vessels were also present, the PCG said. 

The CCG vessels performed "dangerous and blocking maneuvers at sea" to obstruct the Magbanua four times, the PCG said, including two instances in which CCG cutters crossed the bow of the Philippine vessel. The PCG characterized the interaction as "recklessly disregarding" international regulations on safe navigation. 

One video released by the PCG shows an exceptionally close approach that could easily have resulted in a collision. The Magbanua was at a dead stop, and a CCG cutter maneuvered to within throwing distance of her bow.  

The PCG said that it would continue to ensure the safety and welfare of Philippine fishermen (as recently requested by a group of bishops from fishing communities). The agency emphasized the importance of fishing resources for "achieving food security" for the nation. 

For its part, the China Coast Guard said that it had "expelled" the Magbanua from Chinese waters near Scarborough Shoal, which China considers to be an island - not a rock - within Chinese territorial waters. 

Beijing claims sovereignty over the overwhelming majority of the South China Sea under its "nine-dash-line" policy - including the waters of its neighbors' EEZs - based on a history of Chinese presence and navigation in the region. Though the Spratly Islands are hundreds of miles from Chinese shores, Beijing asserts that it has a historic right to occupy and govern most of the archipelago. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague has dismissed this claim as inconsistent with international law, which defines the boundaries of maritime sovereignty based on physical distance from land.