|Philippine boat police anger China in fishing fight
After a short, intense chase, two Philippine police gunboats catch up with an illegal fishing vessel and circle it like menacing sharks, their armed commandos poised to rappel onboard.
"Their first reaction is to flee, but they stop once they realize they cannot out-run us,'' boat captain John Rey Zumarraga said during a training exercise in Honda Bay off the Philippines' most western island of Palawan.
With top speeds of 83 kilometers an hour, modern radar systems and elite marine officers, the 10-metre Special Boat Unit vessels are bad news for illegal fishermen.
Set up four years ago with funding from the US government, which also donated the gunboats and provided Navy SEAL training, the unit's mission is to patrol the near-2,000-kilometre coast of the strategically located province.
Combating human trafficking is one part of its mission, but most of its time and resources is spent on trying to stop poaching of rare fish and other endangered wildlife in and around Palawan, which lies astride the South China Sea.
"Without those (gunboats) the poachers would be laughing at us,'' said the unit's chief administrative officer, Inspector Bryan Espinosa.
But the unit has an Achilles heel, or two: with just six boats and a tiny fuel budget from an under-funded police force, it cannot come close to adequately patrolling the waters around Palawan and into the South China Sea.
"The area is too vast to be patrolled,'' Espinosa conceded. --AFP