China Coast Guard cutters disrupted an Armed Forces of the Philippines resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, including instances where they fired water cannons, a Philippines Coast Guard spokesperson said Monday.
As Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessels BRP Malabrigo (MRRV-4402) and BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409) approached Sabina Shoal, the rendezvous point with the two AFP chartered supply boats, on Friday, the crews spotted China Coast Guard ship CCG 5304 in the area, allegedly waiting for the resupply mission to be carried out, PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said.
Two other People’s Liberation Army Navy ships, destroyer CNS Shenzhen (167) and corvette CNS ABA (630), were 42 miles east of Second Thomas Shoal Saturday morning, as the resupply mission started, Tarriela said.
Chinese ship, CCG 5304, shadowed the Philippines flotilla. Additional ships, CCG 5201, CCG 4203 and CCG 5402, showed up on the scene and conducted maneuvers to block and separate Cabra from the AFP supply boat it was escorting.
An additional cutter, CCG 4203, then blocked Malabrigo. The China Coast Guard cutters also conducted dangerous manoeuvers close to the AFP supply boats.
At 8:48 a.m., Aba was sighted 20 miles from Second Thomas Shoal. CCG5305 joined in about 30 minutes later to carry out manoeuvers against Malabrigo.
At 9:44 a.m., CCG5201 fired its water cannon at one of the supply boats while its PCG escort was blocked by the other CCG ships. Less than 10 minutes later, CCG 4203 and CCG 5305 fired their water cannons at Cabra.
The PCG ships then sighted Aba along with frigate CNS Luoyang (527) and corvette CNS Tongling (629) in an area 15 miles southeast of Second Thomas Shoal.
“All of those PLA Navy vessels appeared to be stationed in those areas awaiting for instructions,” Tarriela said, adding that one of the supply boats reached grounded landing ship tank BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57) despite the Chinese attempts to block the mission.
Two Chinese Maritime Militia ships, which arrived on the scene around noon to join a total of six CCG ships on the scene, blocked the second supply ship.
Although the two maritime militia ships were fishing vessels, it was clear by their actions that they were CMM ships operating under the direction of the CCG, Tarriela said.
The supply ship that reached the Second Thomas Shoal departed with the PCG ships at 4:23 p.m., while the other supply boat headed to Sabina Shoal. While the CCG did not interfere with the departures, CCG 3302 shadowed the Philippine flotilla to Sabina.
The Philippines maintains its claim on Second Thomas Shoal through the grounded Sierra Madre, which serves as an outpost manned by a dozen Philippine Marines. China maintains a blockade on the outpost using CCG ships to intercept and block supply missions to the outpost as it claims that Second Thomas Shoal is part of China’s claims on the Spratlys and is sovereign territory.
In its own statements, the CCG said the Philippine ships illegally trespassed in the waters adjacent to the Ren’ai Reef, which is the Chinese name for Second Thomas Shoal. The Chinese ships implemented necessary controls to stop the Philippine ships, carrying illegal materials, according to a Sunday release.
“We urge the Philippine side to immediately stop its infringing activities in this waters. China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, including the Second Thomas Shoal,” reads the release. “The China Coast Guard will continue to carry out rights protection and law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction according to law.”
The Philippines issued formal protests on China’s actions with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. planning to call a command conference to discuss future responses, according to a Monday release by the Presidential Communications Office (PCO).
“President Marcos stood firm that the Philippines will continue to assert its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea as he emphasized that Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo already sent on Monday a note verbale to the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines,” reads the release. “But, we continue to assert our sovereignty. We continue to assert our territorial rights in the face of all of these challenges and consistent with the international law and UNCLOS especially.”
Communication is still needed, according to the release.
“We still have to keep communicating with them because we need to really come to a conclusion,” reads the release.
China’s Saturday actions drew condemnations from a number of nations, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Germany among others along with the European Union.
In a statement on Saturday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, along with condemning the CCG action warned that attacks on Philippine public vessels, armed forces or aircraft would invoke the U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.