Philippine Group Calls Civilian Mission in South China Sea a 'major Victory' - Latest Global News

Philippine Group Calls Civilian Mission in South China Sea a ‘major Victory’

MANILA, May 16 (Reuters) – A Filipino group leading a civilian supply mission in the South China Sea delivered food and fuel to Filipino fishermen despite being tailed by Chinese ships, its officials said on Thursday, calling it a “major victory “.

Atin Ito (This Is Ours) said a 10-member team sailed to Scarborough Shoal a day before the civilian flotilla, consisting of five merchant ships and 100 small fishing boats, began its voyage in May.

“The mission achieved a major victory when its advance team reached near Panatag Shoal on May 15 (and) was able to provide supplies to fishermen in the area,” Atin Ito spokesman Emman Hizon said, using the local name Scarborough.

Located within Manila’s 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone, Scarborough Shoal is sought after for its abundant fish stocks and a turquoise lagoon that provides safe harbor for ships during storms.

China said Wednesday it has sovereignty over the shoal it calls Huangyan Island and adjacent waters. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the Chinese coast guard carried out “routine rights protection and law enforcement operations” in the waters around the shoal on Wednesday.

Hizon told Reuters the advance team was part of the group’s contingency plan in case China blocked the main flotilla, which he said was returning to port on Thursday after reaching a point about 50 nautical miles from the shoal.

Hizon said the larger flotilla was not necessary because the fishermen who had already been served by the forecastles left the area after being driven away by Chinese ships.

A Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) aircraft deployed to monitor the situation at Scarborough Shoal on Wednesday spotted 19 Chinese vessels, including a Chinese naval ship, in the area. The PCG said it is also monitoring two floating barriers at the southeast entrance to the shoal.

The PCG was not involved in the mission but used ships to provide safety and security to the civilian volunteers. The PCG said two Chinese Coast Guard vessels tailed Atin Ito’s boats.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, although a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration found that its sweeping claims have no legal basis.

(Reporting by Karen Lema and Adrian Portugal. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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