There is “considerable risk” that a Chinese vessel might end up accidentally running aground in the shallow waters and submerged ridges of the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel warned on March 29.

“We urge the National Task Force for the WPS to seriously consider this risk, at the rate Chinese vessels are swarming around Julian Felipe Reef,” Pimentel, chairperson of the House committee on strategic intelligence, said.

“In fact, the task force may have to prepare a contingency plan – a comprehensive course of action – in the event of such an unpleasant incident,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel also expressed concern over the “reef degradation” caused by the horde of Chinese vessels.

“It is not really good for ships to moor there for extended periods because anchors can cause extensive damage to coral reefs and reef-associated habitat such as seagrass beds,” Pimentel pointed out.

“In fact, the hazard of reef damage gets worse during bad weather owing to the risk of anchor dragging and grounding,” Pimentel said.

“We must stress that under international law, we are duty-bound to conserve and manage the natural resources within our 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, while enjoying sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting such resources,” Pimentel said.

In 2018, the Philippine Navy’s own flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, ran aground while on night patrol in the vicinity of Hasa Shoal at the eastern edge of the Spratly Islands.

In 2013, a U.S. warship also accidentally ran aground at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park some 130 kilometers southeast of Palawan.

The U.S. had to pay a $1.7 million fine to the Philippines for the reef damage caused by the stranding of the USS Guardian, which had strayed into Tubbataha after a port call and fuel stop at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Zambales.

The mine countermeasure ship was eventually removed after a lengthy and costly salvage effort by U.S. Navy contractors.