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Philippines reports presence of 42 Chinese militia boats near Thitu Island

A Philippine Coast Guard boat sails past a China Coast Guard vessel during a 2019 encounter in the South China Sea. The PCG has recently reported the large presence of Chinese militia vessels in waters claimed by Manila. (TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has reported the presence of 42 Chinese maritime militia vessels in the vicinity of Thitu Island.

The vessels are accompanied by a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel with pennant number 5302, and what is purportedly a People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessel, said the PCG in a 4 March statement.

Janes is able to confirm from images released by the PCG that the CCG vessel is a former PLAN minelayer that was repurposed in 2012 for service with China Marine Surveillance. The agency was merged with the CCG in 2013.

However, Janes is not able to verify the identity of the said PLAN vessel, given the resolution of the image. The PCG has yet to respond to questions from Janes on the incident, at the time of publication.

Thitu Island is the second-largest feature of the Spratly Islands cluster, which lies within disputed areas of the South China Sea. The island is occupied by the Philippines, which refers to it as Pag-asa Island. However, the island is also claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam as part of their respective maritime territories.

“These Chinese vessels are estimated to have a distance of approximately 4.5 to 8 nautical mile from Pag-asa Island, clearly inside the land feature's 12 nautical mile territorial sea”, the PCG said in its statement.

“Their continuing unauthorised presence is clearly inconsistent with the right of innocent passage and a blatant violation of the Philippines' territorial integrity”, the service said.

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