China Coast Guard Harass Second Thomas Shoal Resupply Mission

October 6, 2023 5:28 PM
A Second Thomas Shoal resupply mission intercepted by China Coast Guard on Oct. 4, 2023. Philippine Coast Guard Photo 

The Philippines conducted a successful resupply mission on Wednesday to its outpost on BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57), grounded at Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands, despite China’s attempts at obstruction.

The mission consisted of two chartered commercial boats escorted by Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessels BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) and BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409). Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela stated in a social media post on Friday that a total of four China Coast Guard ships assisted by five People’s Maritime Militia ships attempted to block the supply ships. CCG 21556 carried out dangerous maneuvers and came within 1 meter of Sindangan.

In a media conference the same day, Tarriela said that to avert a collision, Sindangan had to put its engines in reverse as CCG 21556 crossed its bow. The China Coast Guard and maritime militia carried out a total of eight dangerous maneuvers against the Philippines ships, according to Tarriela.

He said that a Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ship with hull number 630 approached within 0.5 nautical miles of Sindangan. The ship hull number corresponds to corvette CNS Aba (630), which has been sighted operating in the area by previous Philippine resupply missions. A PLAN Y-8Q antisubmarine warfare aircraft was observed conducting surveillance over Sabina Shoal and left when the resupply mission arrived at Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippines deliberately ran aground Sierra Madre in 1999 to stake its claim to Second Thomas Shoal and serve as an outpost there. A dozen Philippines marines normally are stationed there, but the ship’s dilapidated condition means that the Philippines has to run monthly resupply missions to the outpost. The last resupply mission prior to Wednesday’s mission was on Sept. 8.

China claims Second Thomas Shoal together with the entire Spratly Islands chain as its sovereign territory and has accused the Philippines of using the resupply missions as cover for the transportation of construction materials to expand the outpost. China Coast Guard and maritime militia ships have been stationed in the area tasked with obstructing Philippine resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, and in the past have used water cannons to do so.

PLAN warships also have been sailing nearby and observing Philippine ships on the resupply missions, though so far none have taken direct action against the missions. The Philippine Coast Guard in turn has embarked international and local media on its ships during its missions to report on the Chinese actions. Wednesday’s mission included both foreign and local media outlets, which filmed and reported on the Chinese harassment and obstruction.

The China Coast Guard spokesperson Gan Yu issued a statement on Wednesday stating that two Philippine supply ships and two Philippine Coast Guard ships had entered the area withoutChinese government permission the China Coast Guard issued warnings and effectively regulated the Philippine ships in accordance with the law. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands [China’s name for the Spratly Islands], including Ren’ai Reef [China’s name for Second Thomas Shoal], and its adjacent waters.” The statement concluded: “The China Coast Guard will continue to carry out rights protection and law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction in accordance with the law.”

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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