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Photo of the brand new Cessna-208B (C-208B) Grand Caravan EX Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Aircraft that has been added to the Philippine Air Force’s fleet after its formal acceptance, turn-over, and blessing on September 19, 2023, in Clark Air Base, Mabalacat, Pampanga. Secretary of National Defense, Gilberto Teodoro Jr. was the Guest of Honor at the turnover ceremony. Photo from Philippine Air Force

THE United States government officially handed over a surveillance aircraft to the Philippines on Tuesday, aimed at bolstering monitoring efforts amidst growing concerns over China’s increasing activities in the West Philippine Sea.

This includes alleged coral harvesting within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The transfer of this US aircraft follows closely on the heels of global attention being drawn to China’s reported large-scale destruction of coral reefs and marine life in the Rozul (Iroquois) Reef and Escoda Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Simultaneously, satellite imagery released on Tuesday revealed a suspected buildup of Chinese vessels at Rozul Reef, which is located 125 nautical miles from Palawan and positioned at the southwest edge of Reed (Recto) Bank.

Ray Powell, Director of SeaLight, emphasized that their partners at Planet Labs provided “clear visual evidence” of at least 35 Chinese fishing and maritime militia vessels operating at Rozul Reef. While he couldn’t definitively confirm these as Chinese maritime militia vessels based on the images alone, historical patterns, vessel sizes, and behavior strongly suggest their origin.

Historically, Powell pointed out that vessels from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been consistently monitored in this area. Additionally, he noted that neighboring Southeast Asian countries typically do not possess fishing ships of such size, as depicted in the satellite imagery.

Powell also highlighted the “swarming/rafting” behavior exhibited by the ships in the satellite image, a tactic commonly associated with Chinese vessels in the region.

(Jr Amigo/ai/mnm)