'Yolanda' kicks out Chinese from Ayungin Reef, Philippine Marines on grounded ship safe

MANILA - Super typhoon Yolanda has sent home Chinese maritime and Navy vessels at the Ayungin Reef in Palawan, while the half a dozen Philippine Marines on board a rusting and grounded World War II-era ship are safe, a source told InterAksyon.com.

This effectively ends the standoff between the two countries some 100 nautical miles from the island of Palawan.

Ayungin is part of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). China claims the reef is part of its territory, more than a thousand nautical miles from its nearest 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

"They're safe," said a senior officer of the Philippine Marines guarding the reef on board the shipwreck BRP Sierra Madre (Landing Ship Tank 57). The Philippine Marine official requested that he not be named because he is not authorized to give any statement regarding operational activities in the West Philippine Sea.

 "Hindi naman sila naanod (They were not washed away)," the source added.

The source said the Chinese Navy ship, maritime ships, and fishing vessels left Ayungin two or three days before Yolanda struck the country.

"As of now, we've no report that the Chinese ships have returned to Ayungin. Dahil siguro may paparating na naman na isa pang bagyo (Maybe because another storm is approaching the country)," he said.

In June this year, Chinese vessels entered Ayungin and had maintained a presence in the area, as what they did in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal located in Masinloc, Zambales in April 2012.

The territorial dispute between the two countries is being heard by an international arbitration court in Hamburg. - Jaime Sinapit, InterAksyon.com

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