MANILA, Philippines — A Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ship tracked two ships hired by a Philippines-based company to conduct a seismic survey in the Western Philippine Sea earlier this month, Vietnamese maritime observer Duan Dang wrote. last week in its newsletter South China Sea Brief.
Vessel tracking data suggests that CCG vessel 4201 tracked survey vessel Geo Coral and her support vessel Mariska G in northwest Palawan, where Service Contract (SC) 75 is located.
SC 75, which covers 6,160 square kilometers in the northwest basin of Palawan, is operated by PXP Energy Corp.formerly Philex Petroleum Corp, which leased both vessels.
A Philippine government official confirmed the SC 75 incident to the Inquirer on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The source said the CCG vessel monitored Geo Coral and Mariska G at SC 75 from April 4, but kept its distance and did not interfere with their activities until the vessels departed for El Nido on April 6. This was after the Department of Energy (DOE) suspended oil exploration activities in the area until the security cluster issued the “necessary clearance to proceed”.
In February, PXP Energy announced plans to conduct a 3D seismic survey at SC 75 and drill two appraisal wells on SC 72 at resource-rich Recto (Reed) Bank through its subsidiary, Forum Energy. ltd.
SC 72, operated by Forum, spans 8,800 km2 of Recto Bank, located west of Palawan and southwest of the depleting Malampaya gas field. It is the site of the Sampaguita gas field, which is estimated to contain 2.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to PXP.
Both SC 75 and SC 72 are within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, where the Philippines has sovereign or exclusive rights to resource exploitation and exploration.
DOE Suspension Order
In a company statement to the Philippine Stock Exchange last week, PXP and Forum said it received an order from the DOE on April 6 “to suspend all exploration activities for SC 75 and SC 72 until the SJPCC (Security, Justice and Peace Coordination Group) has issued the necessary clearance to proceed.”
The DOE, in a letter disclosed by PXP Energy, said the SJPCC agreed that its approval was necessary as a precondition for petroleum exploration activities “taking into account the political, diplomatic and national security implications of any activity in the Western Philippine Sea”.
Both operators have complied by suspending their respective activities although they told the DOE in an April 8 response that Geo Coral and its support vessels were already at SC 75 to begin survey activities, while Cassandra VI was en route to SC 72 for a geographic survey. site survey.
Both operators expressed their willingness to resume operations immediately and no later than April 11, but said that without a go-ahead signal from the DOE by April 10, they would consider the suspension order “for an indefinite period of time. and a case of force majeure”.
No investigation carried out
PXP and Forum ended up terminating all supply and service agreements for petroleum operations after failing to get word from the DOE to resume operations “to mitigate losses resulting from what now appears to be an indefinite suspension of operations. exploration”.
Geo Coral and Mariska G also left for South Korea on April 12, without doing the planned investigation, the Inquirer source said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, chairman of the SJPCC, did not respond to a request for comment.
Ironically, the DOE had recommended lifting the ban on oil and gas exploration in the Western Philippine Sea to ensure the country’s energy security, which was endorsed by President Duterte in October 2020. He also issued “return to work” notices for service providers engaged in energy-related activities.
The moratorium was imposed in 2014 by President Benigno Aquino III, due to rising tensions between the Philippines and China.
China claims the entire South China Sea, including the Western Philippine Sea. The Philippines, China, Brunei, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia have overlapping claims.
An international arbitral tribunal ruled in 2016 to invalidate Beijing’s historic claims through its fictitious nine-dash line, but it never recognized the ruling.
The DOE’s April 6 suspension order came a month after President Duterte said in one of his late-night public addresses that someone “from China” had reminded him of a supposed exploration deal. joint to Recto Bank, as there were reports about the planned activities of other companies. the.
He added that the same person he did not identify warned him that China would send troops to the area if the Philippines deployed its army.
matter of honor
“You should just respect what has been agreed before. I said it was a matter of honor. There were consensual talks and a written agreement. If this is changed, it is dangerous,” the president said.
He also told the defense and military to follow the supposed joint exploration agreement with China when he chaired a joint command conference of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police on April 6, according to a senior security official.
His statements were the reason the security cluster was reluctant to issue a go-ahead for oil exploration activities, the official told the Inquirer.
But there are no official joint agreements between the Philippines and China on joint exploration activities in the Western Philippine Sea. The two only signed a memorandum of understanding on joint oil and gas development in 2018, but no consensus has yet been reached.
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