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About 100 Filipino activists and fishermen sail on wooden boats to disputed shoal guarded by China – Times of India

WorldAbout 100 Filipino activists and fishermen sail on wooden boats to disputed shoal guarded by China - Times of India

MANILA: About 100 Filipino activists and fishermen, along with journalists, sailed Wednesday to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s coast guard and suspected militia ships have used powerful water cannons to ward off what they regard as intruders.
The Philippine coast guard deployed three patrol ships and a light plane to keep watch from a distance on the activists and fishermen, who set off from western Zambales province to assert Manila’s sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal and outlying waters.The navy dispatched a ship to help keep an eye on the participants.
A flotilla of about 100 small wooden fishing boats with bamboo outriggers initially joined the voyage to help distribute food packs and fuel to fishermen and lay a dozen territorial buoys about 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) from the coast before returning to Zambales, said Emman Hizon, one of the organizers.
Four larger wooden boats with more than 100 activists, including a Filipino and two foreign Roman Catholic priests, fishermen and journalists then proceeded to the shoal and were expected to reach its outlying waters early Thursday, Hizon said.
The activists, who belong to a nongovernment coalition called Atin Ito – Tagalog for This is Ours – said they would seek to avoid confrontation but were prepared for any contingency.
“Our mission is peaceful based on international law and aimed at asserting our sovereign rights,” said Rafaela David, a lead organizer. “We will sail with determination, not provocation, to civilianize the region and safeguard our territorial integrity.”
In December, David’s group with boatloads of fishermen also tried to sail to another disputed shoal but cut short the trip after being tailed by a Chinese ship.
China effectively seized the Scarborough Shoal, a triangle-shaped atoll with a vast fishing lagoon ringed by mostly submerged coral outcrops, by surrounding it with its coast guard ships after a tense 2012 standoff with Philippine government ships.
Angered by China’s action, the Philippine government brought the disputes to international arbitration in 2013 and largely won with a tribunal in The Hague ruling three years later that China’s expansive claims based on historical grounds in the busy seaway were invalid under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The ruling declared the Scarborough Shoal a traditional fishing area for Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen. In the past, fishermen have anchored in the shoal to avoid huge waves in the high seas in stormy weather.
China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected the outcome and continues to defy it.
Two weeks ago, Chinese coast guard and suspected militia ships used water cannons on Philippine coast guard and fisheries ships patrolling the Scarborough Shoal, damaging both vessels.
The Philippines condemned the Chinese coast guard’s action on the shoal, which lies in the Southeast Asian nation’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. The Chinese coast guard said it took a “necessary measure” after the Philippine ships “violated China’s sovereignty.”
In addition to the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have also been involved in the territorial disputes.
Chinese coast guard ships had also ventured into waters close to Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in the past, sparking tensions and protests, but the Southeast Asian nations with considerable economic ties with China have not been as aggressively critical against Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions.
The Philippines has released videos of its territorial faceoffs with China and invited journalists to witness the hostilities in the high seas in a strategy to gain international support, sparking a word war with Beijing.
The increasing frequency of the skirmishes between the Philippines and China has led to minor collisions, injured Filipino navy personnel and damaged supply boats in recent months. It has sparked fears the territorial disputes could degenerate into an armed conflict between China and the United States, a longtime treaty ally of the Philippines.

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