October 23, 2023
MANILA – A China Coast Guard (CCG) ship making “dangerous blocking maneuvers” collided on Sunday morning with one of two boats used by the Philippine Navy for rotation and resupply (Rore) missions to Filipino troops stationed on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) reported.
During that same mission, the port (left-hand) side of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel was also “bumped” by a Chinese maritime militia vessel.
Both incidents, the latest in a series of maritime tensions between the two countries, were condemned by the NTF-WPS, as it criticized the “dangerous, irresponsible and illegal actions” of the CCG and Chinese maritime militia.
“[These are] in violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction and in utter blatant disregard of the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and relevant international maritime conventions, and the 2016 Arbitral Award,” the NTF-WPS said in a statement.
The task force reported that the collision between CCG Vessel 5203 and Filipino supply boat Unaizah on May 2 took place at 6:04 a.m. on Sunday, 13.5 nautical miles (NM) or 1.9 kilometers east northeast of the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded World War II-era warship serving as a military outpost on Ayungin Shoal. It did not say if the boat’s crew suffered injuries or if the Unaizah May 2 sustained any damage.
Despite the collision, the resupply mission was “successfully” conducted as the other supply boat, Unaizah May 1, made it to BRP Sierra Madre, the task force added.
In the second incident, a Chinese maritime militia vessel with tail No. 00003 (CMMV 00003) bumped PCG vessel MRRV 4409 which was lying approximately 6.4 NM (11.9 km) northeast of Ayungin.
The CCG defended its actions, saying it lawfully blocked the Filipino vessels that were “illegally carrying construction materials.” It also accused the Philippines of trespassing.
The CCG said the Unaizah May 2 sailed at the bow of Vessel No. 5203 “on purpose in a way that was not professional nor safe in spite of China’s advanced notice and repeated warnings.”
It added that “at 0813 AM, the Philippine vessel 4409 began to [move] astern deliberately, leading to collision of the stern of its vessel into the starboard of China’s static floating Qiong Sansha Yu 00003.”
The move, the CCG stressed, was intended “to [find fault] with China and escalate the current situation.”
“The Philippines’ action seriously violated the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and threatened the navigation safety of the Chinese vessels. The operation of Chinese side was professional, legitimate, and lawful and the responsibility [lies] entirely with the Philippine side,” it said.
This is not the first time Manila has accused Beijing of carrying out “dangerous maneuvers” within the West Philippine Sea while blocking its regular Rore missions to the BRP Sierra Madre.
On Feb. 6, a CCG ship directed a “military-grade” laser at one of the PCG vessels escorting a mission.
Eight days after the laser attack, President Marcos summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to Malacañang. Despite this, another CCG ship blocked a Filipino patrol vessel and caused a near-collision at Ayungin Shoal on April 23.
On Aug. 22, the Unaizah May 1 and 2 managed to deliver fresh supplies to Filipino troops stationed on Ayungin Shoal, weeks after CCG vessels thwarted an earlier mission by training water cannons on one of the supply boats.
Only last week, a Chinese Navy ship shadowed the BRP Benguet off Pag-asa Island conducting a Rore mission.
The Philippine Navy boat issued several radio challenges against the People’s Liberation Army-Navy ship 621 which tried to cross its bow with the closest point of approach at 350 yards.
US condemns incident
The latest maritime run-in between Manila and Beijing drew condemnation from several countries, including the United States which said China’s “latest disruption of a legal Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal” placed the lives of Filipino troops at risk.
“We stand with our friends, partners, allies in protecting Philippine sovereignty and in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson said on X (formerly Twitter) on Sunday.
Canada also criticized the incident, saying it was provoked by the CCG’s “unlawful and dangerous conduct.”
“The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) actions are unjustified. China has no lawful claim to the West Philippine Sea. Its actions are incompatible with the obligations of a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the Embassy of Canada said in a statement.
In a separate post on X, Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines David Hartman said they stand “in full unity with the Philippines in defense of its territorial integrity and the upholding of international law.”
For European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Veron, “these incidents, their repetition and intensification are dangerous and very disturbing.”
“We join the Philippines in its call for the full observance of International Law in the South China Sea,” he added.
Netherlands Ambassador to the Philippines Marielle Geraedts said her country stood with the Philippines in its call “for the full observance of international law in the South China Sea,” while German Ambassador Andreas Pfaffernoschke expressed his country’s concern about the recent “confrontations” in the South China Sea.
Senators also called out the CCG, with Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri reiterating that “our freedom of navigation in our own exclusive economic zone within our own continental shelf should be recognized and upheld.”
“Let me salute our (PCG and military) personnel… for displaying courage and restraint in continuing their resupply missions despite the hostile and treacherous acts of [CCG] and their maritime militia,” he stressed in a statement.
“China, enough already. This latest collision is squarely the [CCG’s] fault,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.
“I call on the international community to join the Philippines’ condemnation of China’s most recent violence against the Filipino people. Our nations should not stop fighting for the rule of law,” she added.