Chinese Coast Guard ships dog ‘Atin Ito’ mission

Chinese Coast Guard ships dog ‘Atin Ito’ mission
Chinese coast guard ship nears the FB Aguian, one of the four fishing boats in the Atin Ito civilian mission on its way to Scarborough Shoal. —PHOTO BY OLIVER TEVES

ABOARD THE FB AGUIAN—There’s no “smooth sailing” for the “Atin Ito” (This is Ours) mission voyaging to the West Philippine Sea to fish, bring food and other provisions to Filipino fishers there, or simply be part of a peaceful journey to assert Philippine sovereign rights at Bajo de Masinloc (also known as Scarborough Shoal and Panatag Shoal). 

Two Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships appeared as four Filipino fishing boats ferrying civilian volunteers of Atin Ito and Filipino and foreign journalists made their way to the shoal late Wednesday. 

Except for one boat developing engine trouble, the marine convoy sailed without incident until around 6:20 p.m., shortly before sunset, when the CCG ships showed up on the horizon.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) confirmed that one of the Chinese vessels with bow number 4109 was “within 1800 yards from the group.” 

“At 6:27 PM, another CCG vessel with bow no. 4108 was sighted with an estimated distance of 800 yards, and CCG 4109 is still shadowing with the estimated distance of 1.1 nautical mile,” the PCG said.

The PCG’s BRP Bagacay, which is escorting the Atin Ito mission, and CCG 4108 exchanged radio challenges as the boats were 50 nautical miles from Bajo de Masinloc. The two Chinese vessels tried to get into position in a manner aimed at dividing the contingent but were unsuccessful due to the evasive maneuvers of the mission boats’ pilots. 

The Bagacay maintained its close distance to the Atin Ito boats, to thwart any other divisive attempt by the Chinese ships. At 10 p.m., the boats carrying food and other provisions including fuel to fishers in the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal were well on the way to their destination. The boats sailed out of Masinloc Bay, Zambales, about 220 kilometers from the shoal, early Wednesday morning. 

The expedition is composed of four large fishing vessels carrying a total of 71 crew members and 86 civilians including Atin Ito members and journalists. 

Here is the PCG’s tally of the mission participants: FFV John, 26 crew and 25 passengers; FFV Aguian, 7 crew and 18 passengers; FFV Paty, 9 crew and 14 passengers; and FFV Bingbing, 29 crew and 29 passengers 

Early Wednesday, the PCG reported that it had dispatched two more vessels to escort the expedition and provide security assistance: the BRP Panglao and BRP Boracay. An aircraft also flew ahead of the mission boats to monitor the goings-on at the shoal.

Atin Ito reported on Wednesday that the three main objectives of the mission had been achieved: to conduct a peace and solidarity regatta composed of civilian marine vessels and small fishing boats to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone; to lay down buoys/markers carrying the message “WPS, Atin Ito!”; and to complete the first round of distributing supplies, including fuel and food packs, to Filipino fishers. 

The Atin Ito mission is now in the second phase of its voyage, aiming to reach the vicinity of Panatag Shoal for another round of supply distribution to Filipino fishers in the area.

Read more: ‘Atin Ito’ sets new mission to Scarborough Shoal to assert Filipinos’ fishing rights