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MANILA, April 7, (AP): A Chinese coast guard ship last month maneuvered for days near a research vessel deployed by Philippine and Taiwanese scientists to undertake a crucial survey of undersea fault lines west of the northern Philippines, sparking concerns among the scientists on board, officials said Thursday. The scientists on the R/V Legend, including five Filipinos, proceeded with their research despite the presence of the Chinese coast guard ship in the vicinity of the waters straddling the undersea Manila Trench from March 25 to March 30 off the northwestern Philippine city of Vigan in Ilocos Sur province.
The Chinese coast guard’s proximity sparked concerns because the research vessel was towing a survey cable in the sea, a Filipino scientist told The Associated Press. The ongoing offshore survey – a joint project of the National Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of the Philippines and the National Central University in Taiwan – aims to help map offshore faults and other geologic features that could set off future earthquakes, tsunamis and other potentially catastrophic hazards in the region.
The month long research is partly funded by the Philippine Department of Science and Technology and will end on April 13. The Chinese coast guard ship maneuvered about 2 to 3 nautical miles (3 to 5 kilometers) from the R/V Legend for several days, according to Carla Dimalanta of the National Institute of Geological Sciences. “Its proximity to the research vessel was cause for concern especially when the research vessel was towing a streamer cable for the scientific measurements that were being done,” Dimalanta told The AP in an emailed reply to questions about the incident.
She did not say if the Chinese coast guard ship warned the research vessel that it had illegally entered Chinese territorial waters and should immediately move away, a warning China’s coast guard has often issued by radio to foreign ships and vessels cruising near its outposts in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety. The Philippine coast guard said it deployed a patrol ship, the BRP Capones, on Monday to keep watch on the research vessel.