Chinese Ships Reportedly Stalk Philippine Warship Patrolling the West Philippine Sea
ON Wednesday, February 1, 2023, two Chinese militia vessels reportedly stalked the BRP Andres Bonifacio, which was patrolling Reed Bank, roughly 248 kilometers or 154 miles off the coast of Palawan and within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Chinese vessels were initially sighted leaving Panganiban Reef or Mischief Reef, which is 232 kilometers from Reed Bank. According to American defense and security expert Raymond Powell, the Chinese vessels set course for an intercept with the BRP Andres Bonifacio, which changed its course westward to avoid the Chinese vessels.
In a Twitter post, Powell said the Chinese militia ships "have gone dark" or probably turned off their AIS transponder to avoid identification.
EPILOGUE - 2 Feb/0650 local, #China Coast Guard 5205 left Mischief Reef, going W then N & arriving at the scene of #Philippines Navy BRP A. Bonifacio's search ~1300. It then moved east, trailing Bonifacio's path to a point 60km N of Mischief, where it appears to be loitering. https://t.co/xnDWjsvgEz pic.twitter.com/tpCa6OoNf0— Ray Powell (@GordianKnotRay) February 2, 2023
Powell was still able to monitor the behavior of the three ships in the West Philippine Sea through real-time satellite images.
UPDATE #3 - Assuming the two maritime militia ships keep their current heading, they may be going to Scarborough Shoal. Another China Coast Guard ship (5304) arriving from the NW seems headed for Subi Reef, though of course it may yet grow interested in the Bonifacio's activities https://t.co/byEPrYW7QA pic.twitter.com/QF1LjAqytJ— Ray Powell (@GordianKnotRay) February 1, 2023
Powell concluded his live tweets on Wednesday with a fifth update, saying the BRP Andres Bonifacio seemed to have finished its patrol operations and is returning to port.
UPDATE #5 (prob final) - as of 2 Feb/3 am PHT, #Philippines Navy BRP Andres Bonifacio seems to have finished its apparent search ops & is likely returning to port. #China Coast Guard 5304 remains en route Mischief Reef. (1/2) https://t.co/KUQNJz6GHL pic.twitter.com/osHwfOKLVa— Ray Powell (@GordianKnotRay) February 1, 2023
However, on Friday, February 03, Powell noticed that the Chinese militia ship Qiong Sansha Yu 00001 arrived in Panatag Shoal or Scarborough Shoal and was later joined by another ship from the Chinese Coast Guard.
Two new Chinese security vessels now at Scarborough (Panatag) shoal in the #Philippines' exclusive economic zone. Maritime Militia ship Qiong Sansha Yu 00001 arrived 2 Feb/1730L from Mischief Reef, while #China Coast Guard 3302 arrived 3 hours later from Guangzhou.#southchinasea pic.twitter.com/U7nRoZwN4D— Ray Powell (@GordianKnotRay) February 3, 2023
China has stepped up its presence in the West Philippine Sea in 2022, with increased incidences of harassment on Philippine fishing boats in the area.
According to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, China has spent 344 days in 2022 patrolling Scarborough Shoal, significantly increasing its presence by 142 compared to 2020.