About 100 Filipino activists and fishermen sail on wooden boats to disputed shoal

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In this photo provided by Atin-Ito/Akbayan Party, activists and volunteers on fishing boats begin their journey at Masinloc, Zambales province, northwestern Philippines on May 15. (AP)

MANILA, Philippines, May 15, (AP): About 100 Filipino activists and fishermen, along with journalists, sailed Wednesday to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s coast guard and suspected militia ships have used powerful water cannons to ward off what they regard as intruders.
The Philippine coast guard deployed three patrol ships and a light plane to keep watch from a distance on the activists and fishermen, who set off from western Zambales province to assert Manila’s sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal and outlying waters. The navy dispatched a ship to help keep an eye on the participants.
A flotilla of about 100 small wooden fishing boats with bamboo outriggers initially joined the voyage to help distribute food packs and fuel to fishermen and lay a dozen territorial buoys about 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) from the coast before returning to Zambales, said Emman Hizon, one of the organizers.
Four larger wooden boats with more than 100 activists, including a Filipino and two foreign Roman Catholic priests, fishermen and journalists then proceeded to the shoal and were expected to reach its outlying waters early Thursday, Hizon said.
The activists, who belong to a nongovernment coalition called Atin Ito – Tagalog for This is Ours – said they would seek to avoid confrontation but were prepared for any contingency.
“Our mission is peaceful based on international law and aimed at asserting our sovereign rights,” said Rafaela David, a lead organizer. “We will sail with determination, not provocation, to civilianize the region and safeguard our territorial integrity.”
In December, David’s group with boatloads of fishermen also tried to sail to another disputed shoal but cut short the trip after being tailed by a Chinese ship.

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