AN AERIAL photo of Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, locally known as Pag-asa, in the contested Spratly Islands. — REUTERS

MANILA – The Philippines on Monday deployed a coastguard vessel to carry out a two-week patrol mission in waters north and east of the country to intensify its maritime presence and check on Chinese research vessels that were spotted in Benham Rise.

Benham Rise, which sits off the Philippines’ east coast, is a vast area declared by the United Nations in 2012 as part of the country’s continental shelf. Manila in 2017 renamed it “Philippine Rise.”

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said in a statement its vessel will patrol the waters to conduct maritime domain awareness, intensify its presence in the northern Luzon island and monitor local fishermen.

“We will also check the reported Chinese research vessels in Benham Rise,” PCG spokesperson Armando Balilo said.

Benham Rise, said to be rich in biodiversity and fish stocks, is not in the South China Sea and Beijing has made no claim to it.

China is however involved in a territorial dispute with the Philippines over islands in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely despite a 2016 arbitration ruling that said its claim had no legal basis under international law.

Ray Powell, director of SeaLight at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, said on platform X on Friday that two Chinese research vessels left a port in Longxue Island in Guangzhou on Feb. 26 and were “loitering” northeast of Benham Rise, within the Philippines exclusive economic zone.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy in the Philippines. — Reuters