MANILA – The sinking of a Filipino fishing boat at Reed Bank has raised fears it might be the handiwork of Beijing’s maritime militia, a crucial component of its sea force asserting its sweeping claims over the South China Sea.
The Philippines is no stranger to this flotilla of ordinary-looking but military-trained fishing vessels swarming strategic areas in the vital waterway.
Such boats helped Beijing seize control of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012 following a tense standoff with Manila’s navy, which had accosted Chinese poachers there.
More recently, hundreds of these vessels were deployed near Pag-asa, reportedly to spy on the ongoing repair of structures on the Philippine-occupied island.
Because “nothing distinguishes” China’s maritime militia from its ordinary fishermen, Manila-based defense analyst Jose Antonio Custodio said this paranaval force was likely behind the Reed Bank incident last June 9.
The Philippine boat was anchored on Reed Bank when a Chinese vessel crashed into it, throwing 22 crewmen at sea where Vietnamese fishermen rescued them hours later.