While the attention of the Philippines has been focused on its conflict with Taiwan over the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard on May 9, little notice has been given to the arrival, just the day before, of three Chinese naval ships at the Ayungin Reef (Second Thomas Shoal), the gateway to the oil and mineral rich Reed Bank, just 105 nautical miles from Palawan Island, within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
This undated handout photo released by the Philippine Government on May 23, 2013 shows an aerial view of BRP Sierra Madre, a 100-metre (328 foot) amphibious vessel built for the US in 1944 and acquired by the Filipino navy in 1976, grounded at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. A handful of marines living on a World War II-era ship that is grounded on a remote, tiny reef is the Philippines’ last line of defence against China’s efforts to control most of the South China Sea. The soldiers are stationed on Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands aboard a former US tank-landing vessel that was deliberately abandoned there to serve as a base, according to their former commander, Juancho Sabban. AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE PHOTO / Philippine Government