SUBIC, Zambales—Filipino fishermen venturing out to the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground some 200 kilometers from the coast of the province, are enjoying a respite from Chinese coast guard harassment, but the continued presence of Chinese patrols in the area looms like ominous clouds in the horizon.

Based on accounts given by crewmen of a fishing boat that returned here on Sunday, Chinese coast guards have stopped harassing Filipino fishermen entering the shoal.
Aniceto Achina, 40, captain of fishing boat FB JJM, said the Chinese patrols saw the Filipino fishermen approach the shoal but did not drive them away, unlike in previous encounters with Filipino fishing boats. FB JJM carried 11 fishermen for an eight-day trip to the shoal.

“We were expecting the Chinese coast guard to shoo us away from the shoal like they have done in the past. Surprisingly, they just ignored us,” Achina said.

He said the fishermen’s service boats were able to approach the entrance of the shoal that has virtually been under the control of the Chinese coast guard since 2012.

“The Chinese patrols were less aggressive this time. There was no chasing or firing of water cannons, although they were within striking distance,” he said.

The shoal (locally called Panatag Shoal) is located 230 km from the coastline of Zambales province, well within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone.

The shoal is a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a lagoon. It has a perimeter of 46 km and an area of 150 sq km, making it a rich fishing ground.

Earlier, the fishermen complained of far more aggressive action from the Chinese patrols, which included ramming their boats.

Bounty of the seas
According to Achina, the Chinese ships that used to roam in the area have apparently been replaced. “The new Chinese patrol ships were no longer carrying firearms. Instead of confronting us, they just waved at us so we went on to fish day after day without worrying about being attacked,” Achina said.
He said his crew brought home more than three tons of fish after the week-long trip.

“When the Chinese coast guards were driving us away, we would stay at sea for more than a month to recoup our expenses for the fishing trip,” Achina said, adding that this meant bringing home 10 boxes of fish at most.

Rolando Castorico, 44, crew member of FB JJM, said other Filipino fishermen who sailed to the shoal did not encounter any hostile treatment from the Chinese coast guards this month.

“When we went to the shoal last week, we saw 15 other fishing boats carrying Filipino fishermen. Each of us was able to freely fish around the shoal while the Chinese patrols were watching,” Castorico said.

“Perhaps the Chinese patrols thought that they were outnumbered. Since it would have been impossible for them to chase each of our boats, they just stopped going after us,” Achina said.
In past months, the fishermen fought back. One account involved fishermen hurling stones at a Chinese patrol ship that was driving them away.

Source: Inquirer

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