Filipino fishermen pay price as China ropes off disputed Scarborough Shoal
Filipino seamen are forced to find alternative livelihoods after takeover of Scarborough Shoal
Along the northwestern Philippine coast, poor children with claw hammers clamber aboard an abandoned fishing vessel to pry loose and steal rusty nails from its deck.
It has become a familiar sight in villages where some fishermen have been forced to give up their livelihoods since China took control of their fishing haven last year.
Fishermen say Chinese maritime surveillance ships have shooed them from the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, which China calls Huangyan Island, and roped off the entrance to the vast lagoon that had been their fishing ground for decades.
Some have paddled back in canoes to sneak into the lagoon - teeming with pricey yellowfin and skipjack tuna, red grouper, blue marlin and lobster - while their mother boats hide from a distance. But other Filipino fishermen in the northwestern towns of Masinloc and Infanta have sold their boats, or simply left them on the coast, and turned to other work, including raising pigs in their backyards.
Fish trader Joey Legazpi has sold most of his 12 outrigger boats and opened a small food store in Infanta, in Pangasinan province.
"It's gone," Legazpi said, noting that the Philippines' ill-equipped forces are no match for China's mammoth military. "We've lost hope we can get Scarborough back."
Chinese maritime surveillance ships took control of Scarborough Shoals and roped off the entrance to its vast fishing lagoon after a two-month stand-off with Philippine government ships last year.
The chain of reefs and rocks 125 nautical miles west of the northwestern province of Zambales falls within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, Manila says.
Legazpi said the dispute over the shoal put the lives of Filipino fishermen in jeopardy when fierce monsoon winds threatened to lash their boats late last year. They could not enter the shallow, calm waters of its 130 square-kilometre lagoon because Chinese surveillance ships stood guard. "How can they do that when it's the law of the sea that people in distress should be helped?" Legazpi asked.