DFA to review Chinese ‘forceful’ retrieval of floating debris from PH Coast Guard

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THE DEPARTMENT of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday said it would review a reported incident in the South China Sea wherein a Chinese vessel “forcefully retrieved” debris being towed by the Philippine Coast Guard. 

“The DFA is aware of the incident and awaits the detailed reports from maritime law enforcement agencies. A thorough review will be conducted,” DFA Spokesperson Maria Theresita C. Daza told reporters via WhatsApp.  

The Philippine military’s Western Command reported on Sunday morning that an unidentified floating object was spotted drifting west off Thitu Island, locally known as Pag-asa Island. 

The island is part of the resource-rich Spratly Islands. It is about 12 nautical miles from China’s air and naval base at Subi Reef.  

China took hold of Subi, which the Philippines calls Zamora, in 1988.  

A Philippine Coast Guard vessel was towing the debris to the Naval Station Emilio Liwanag (NSEL) when a Chinese Coast Guard boat with bow number 5203 blocked its course twice.  

The Chinese crew then deployed a rigid hull inflatable boat, cut the towing line attached to the NSEL rubber boat, and forcefully took the floating object   

The Philippine Coast Guard then decided to return to Thitu Island.  

“No member of the NSEL Team was injured during this incident,” Western Command Vice Admiral Alberto B. Carlos said in a statement. “This information has been reported to the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea for appropriate action.”  

The Chinese Embassy did not respond to a Viber message seeking comment before the print deadline.  

Earlier this month, the Philippine Coast Guard collected a “white painted, curve shaped, and more or less six-meter-long metallic debris” retrieved by fishermen in waters off Occidental Mindoro, located northeast of Spratly Islands. 

The Philippine Space Agency, in a statement on Nov. 9, said the debris is “highly likely” to be part of a “rocket fairing of Long March 5B” launched in late October. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan