Monday, March 16, 2020

Chinese vessels near Pag-asa nothing new — DND chief

The presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island, a fifth-class island town of Palawan located in the disputed Spratlys Island chain in the South China Sea, is not new to the Department of National Defense.

DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also pointed out that the presence of these Chinese ships near the island town is not causing the delay in the construction of a beaching ramp on the island.
The US-based think tank Center for International and Strategic Studies-Asian Maritime Initiative (CSIS-AMTI), in a report last week citing satellite imagery monitoring, claimed the regular and daily presence of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island played a key role in the delay in the construction project in the island town.

“I don’t know where AMTI’s allegation came from. It’s totally false. Although there are always Chinese ships in the vicinity of Pag-asa – remember Zamora (Subi) Reef within seeing distance by the naked eye – they have never in any way interfered in the rehabilitation of the island,” Lorenzana said.
Since the Chinese has constructed naval and air facilities in its man-made island on Zamora Reef, its coast guard vessels, maritime militia ships and warship have been extensively using this facility to advance its maritime and territorial claim to almost 90 percent of the South China Sea.

The island town of Kalayaan, whose seat of local governance is located on Pag-asa Island, is just 14 nautical miles away from the Chinese naval and air facilities in Zamora Reef.
Lorenzana said the first reason why the construction of the beaching ramp has been delayed is that the seabed where the beaching ramp is to be built was found to be so hard and the contractor had to bring in the appropriate drilling equipment.

He added that when work finally started, drilling progressed very slowly because of the solid rock on the seabed.
The second reason for the delay, according to the defense chief, is that all equipment and materials are shipped from Puerto Princesa City.

“The seas in the Spratlys are usually rough that the contractor’s barges can only transport materials within a small window of time from January to April and May. After these months, everything depends on the weather,” he said.