CHINESE vessels have returned to Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea despite repeated protests by the Philippines, according to a United States-based news radio.
Dozens of ships near the reef in the northern part of Union Banks have been found, Radio Free Asia said, citing images from Planet Labs.
Commercial satellite imagery showed an increasing number of vessels in the reef, which had prompted the Philippines to file diplomatic protests against China this year.
The Foreign Affairs department did not immediately reply to a mobile phone message seeking comment.
The reef, which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe, is 175 nautical miles west of Palawan Island and is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which followed the ships’ movements, earlier said they appeared to be Chinese maritime militia because these were not involved in fishing activities.
It spotted 40 ships near the reef in August, but the number had increased to more than 150 by mid-October, it added.
More than 200 Chinese vessels were found near Whitsun Reef in March. Some of them, which China claimed were fishing vessels, started leaving in May. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan