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Boat Engine Explosion Injures Two Filipino Fishers Near Bajo de Masinloc

MANILA — Two Filipino fishermen sustained third-degree burns following an engine explosion on their fishing boat near Bajo de Masinloc on Saturday, according to a report from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Bajo de Masinloc has been a potential flashpoint since Beijing seized it from Manila in 2012. The fish-rich reef lies about 240 kilometers west of Luzon, the Philippines’ main island, and nearly 900 kilometers from Hainan, the nearest major Chinese landmass.

Eight Filipino fishermen faced a terrifying ordeal near Scarborough Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal. An explosion ripped through their vessel roughly 10 nautical miles from the disputed reef, according to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Rear Admiral Armand Balilo.

The cause of the explosion remains unclear, but details of the aftermath paint a concerning picture. The PCG dispatched a rescue vessel, only to be met with obstruction from the China Coast Guard (CCG). Reports indicate the CCG not only blocked the rescue attempt but also issued a chilling threat: arrest the Filipino fishermen for non-compliance. According to international law this area belongs to the Philippines and China has no jurisdiction over it.

“They were blocked by the China Coast Guard on their way to the area. There were also dangerous maneuvers,” Balilo told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview.

Adding another layer of tension, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ship was also present during the incident. While the Chinese initially offered assistance, they withdrew the offer upon learning of the Philippine Coast Guard’s imminent arrival.

The Scarborough Shoal has been a simmering geopolitical flashpoint since China seized control from the Philippines in 2012. This fish-rich reef lies strategically located, west of Luzon, the main Philippine island, and far closer to the Philippines than China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan.

China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea have long been a source of friction with South East Asian countries, including the Philippines. An international tribunal ruling in 2016 declared China’s claims to have no legal basis, a decision Beijing continues to disrespect. To bolster its contested claims, China has deployed fleets of coast guard and fishing vessels to patrol the waters, while simultaneously constructing and militarizing artificial islands on disputed reefs.

This latest incident serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing tensions in the South China Sea and the constant dangers faced by Filipino fishermen fishing in these hot waters.

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