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Coastguard to Remain in Panatag Amid Chinese Fishing Ban

PHILIPPINES - The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will continue to maintain its presence within Filipino traditional fishing ground in Panatag Shoal, off the coast of Zambales, amid Chinas pronouncement that it will ban fishing in the area for more than two months, an official said.

Lt. Commander Rommel Supangan, acting PCG spokesman, said that as of the moment, theres no change in the presidential directive for the group's Search and Rescue Vessel 003 (SRV-003) BRP Pampanga to stay put at the Panatag Shoal with the vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), reports SOURCE.

So far the standing of the President is to maintain the presence of our ship and show our flag in the area, Mr Supangan said.

The Philippines and China have been engaged in a standoff at the Panatag Shoal for more than a month. Both countries have deployed vessels in the shoal, asserting their claims over the disputed territory.

The standoff started last month after Chinese maritime vessels prevented the Philippine Navy's biggest warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, from apprehending crews of Chinese fishing vessels who were caught fishing illegally in the lagoon of the Panatag Shoal.

China said that it is banning fishing in Panatag Shoal, which is only 124 nautical miles from the Philippine province of Zambales.

The shoal is also called Bajo de Masinloc, part of Zambales' town called Masiloc, in the Philippines. China, meanwhile, calls the rock formation as Huangyah Island.

Ban covers Chinese fishermen only

BFAR Director Asis Perez, meanwhile, clarified that the fishing ban should only cover Chinese fishermen and not Filipinos.

Thats the prerogative of China because they have direct control over their own fishermen. The fishing ban is only applicable to them, Mr Perez said.

Mr Perez said that insofar as the country is concerned, Filipino fishermen can stay in the disputed shoal. He said Filipinos will be prevented from fishing in the shoal only if the government will impose its own fishing ban in the area.

On Sunday, the PCG's SRV-0003 dropped a rubber boat with PCG personnel aboard and conducted a round on Filipino fishermen who were inside the lagoon. The PCG made the move to verify reports that they were being harassed by Chinese fishermen, who were also fishing in the area.

Theyre (Filipino fishermen) fishing there without any untoward incident, Mr Supangan said.

Mr Supangan added that as of their last monitoring, the Chinese has 11 fishing boats, two maritime surveillance ships and a FLEC (Fishery Law Enforcement Command) vessel at the dispute shoal.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has two ships -- a PCG ship and a BFAR vessel -- inside the shoal.

Lucy Towers

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