A Philippine supply boat collided on Sunday with a China Coast Guard vessel attempting to block it during an operation to resupply the grounded LST BRP Sierra Madre (LS57) at Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands.
A Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel was also bumped by a Chinese Maritime Militia during the mission, according to a Sunday statement from the Philippines’ National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.
The incident occurred at 6:04 a.m., according to the statement, which blamed China Coast Guard Vessel 5203’s blocking maneuvers for a collision with the Armed Forces of the Philippines-contracted resupply boat Unaiza May 2 at approximately 13.5 nautical miles east-northeast of the Sierra Madre.
“The provocative, irresponsible, and illegal action of CCGV 5203 imperiled the safety of the crew of Unaiza May 2,” read the statement.
During the resupply mission, Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409)’s port side was bumped by Chinese Maritime Militia vessel 00003 at 8:14 a.m. while it was lying approximately 6.4 nm northeast of Second Thomas Shoal, according to the statement. The resupply mission was still ongoing, the statement added, with Unaiza May 1 successfully resupplying the Sierra Madre and personnel stationed there.
“The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) condemns in the strongest degree the latest dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal actions of the CCG and the Chinese Maritime Militia done this morning, 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 (COLREGS) and relevant international maritime conventions, and the 2016 Arbitral Award” concluded the statement.
A later statement by the Philippines National Security Council said that Cabra and sister ship BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407), which had escorted the resupply mission, were now escorting the two supply boats back to their home port. According to the PCG, Cabra will ensure that the damaged supply boat safely makes the trip. The PCG reported that crews of the Philippine vessels involved in the collisions were safe and unharmed.
Second Thomas Shoal is one of the Philippines’ holdings in the disputed Spratly Islands. The Philippines deliberately grounded the Sierra Madre there in 1999 to serve as an outpost with a detachment of a dozen or so Philippine Marines. The deteriorating condition of the ship and shortage of storage space necessitate regular monthly resupply missions. China, which also claims the shoal, has accused the Philippines of using the resupply missions as cover to bring in construction materials to strengthen and expand the outpost there. The Philippines has denied the accusation, claiming that past materials shipments were only for repair works to maintain a minimum level of habitability on the ship.
The AFP released on its social media channels videos of both incidents taken from onboard Unaiza May 2 and from overhead.
The China Coast Guard issued a release stating that on Oct.22, despite China’s repeated dissuasion and warnings, the Philippines insisted on sending two transport ships and two coast guard ships to trespass into the waters adjacent to Ren’ai Reef in China’s Nansha Islands (China’s name for Second Thomas Shoal and the Spratlys) in an attempt to deliver illegal construction materials to illegally grounded warships. Though multiple warnings were ineffective, the release said, and the China Coast Guard took control measures in accordance with the law against the Philippine ships carrying illegal building materials. China says it made temporary special arrangements for the Philippines to transport food and other essential living supplies.
“The on-site operations were reasonable, legal, and professional” said the release which added, “During this period, the Philippine ship ignored China’s solemn warning and dangerously approached our ship in an unsafe manner, resulting in a collision. The responsibility lies entirely with the Philippines.”
The release claims China has undisputed sovereignty over the area and that the Philippines violated China’s territorial sovereignty, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and its own commitments.
“We urge the Philippines to immediately stop its infringing actions. 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 and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” concluded the statement.
Ambassadors to the Philippines from the U.S., Japan, Germany, TUnited Kingdom and Europe voiced their concerns on social media on the incident.
“The United States condemns PRC’s latest disruption of a legal Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, putting the lives of Filipino service members at risk. We stand with our friends, partners and allies in protecting the Philippines’ sovereignty and in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific” stated U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, MaryKay Carlson in a social media post.
The Canadian Embassy in the Philippines also issued a statement condemning the actions of the China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia.
“The PRC’s 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” read the statement.