Chinese Ships Ram Philippine Vessels, Hits Crews with Water Cannons in Series of South China Sea Incidents

December 10, 2023 10:43 AM
China Coast Guard vessels shoot water canons at fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc over the weekend. Philippine Coast Guardn Photo

Chinese maritime forces damaged three Philippine vessels in two consecutive incidents in the South China Sea since Friday.

On Friday, China Coast Guard cutters and Maritime Militia vessels disrupted the resupply of Filipino fishermen off Scarborough Shoal by civilian vessels under the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). According to a press release from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, the BFAR multi-mission offshore vessels BRP Datu Sanday (MMOV-3002), BRP Datu Bankaw (MMOV-3004) and BRP Datu Tamblot (MMOV-3005) were harassed by water cannons and long range acoustic devices from Chinese forces.

The Philippines claimed that water cannons were used at least eight times during the incident and that the damage to BRP Datu Tamblot’s navigational and communications equipment was a result of the China Coast Guard’s intended targeting, stating that the vessel “was directly and deliberately targeted by the China Coast Guard.” Philippine sailors also experienced “severe temporary discomfort and incapacitation” from the China Maritime Militia’s use of long-range acoustic devices. Chinese vessels further impeded BFAR’s mission by deploying Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats to chase off Filipino fishermen attempting to receive supplies.

According to Philippine fishermen, Chinese forces sent another barrier at the southeast entrance to Scarborough Shoal. In September, Beijing placed a barrier that was promptly removed by Manila. China has maintained an almost constant presence at the feature since a 2012 incident and has prevented fishermen from directly accessing the shoal.

A resupply mission to the detachment of Philippine marines and sailors onboard BRP Sierra Madre (LS 57) at Second Thomas Shoal would meet similar harassment from Chinese forces today.

The Philippines has been contending with Chinese vessels attempting to blockade the Second Thomas Shoal twice a month since August. Incidents since then have seen increasing assertiveness and scale from Beijing, which claims the South China Sea feature under its Nine-Dash Line territorial claim.

In this latest resupply mission incident, Chinese forces managed to damage the Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel BRP Cabra (MRRV 4409) and the civilian chartered resupply boat M/L Kalavaan. While damage on Cabra only applied to the mast, Kalavaan’s was severe enough to knock out its engines. The resupply vessel was taken under tow by another Philippine Coast Guard escort, BRP Sindangan (MRRV 4407), back to Palawan. Kalavaan joined Second Thomas Shoal resupply missions as a replacement for Unaizah May 2, which was rammed in an October incident.

Amid the intense harassment of this resupply mission, one of the Philippine resupply boats reached Second Thomas Shoal. Despite being rammed Unaizah May 1 managed to drop off its supplies and passengers, including Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief General Brawner Jr.

In response to this incident, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea openly questioned China’s goodwill in resolving South China Sea issues, stating in a press release that “the systematic and consistent manner in which the People’s Republic of China carries out these illegal and irresponsible actions puts into question and significant doubt the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue. Peace and stability cannot be achieved without due regard for the legitimate, well-established, and legally settled rights of others.”

These incidents come after last month’s U.S. and Australian joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea, which aimed to show solidarity with Manila in its efforts to maintain its sovereignty against Chinese coercion.

In the aftermath of these latest incidents, statements of concern and support have been flooding in from the Philippines’ international partners, such as the U.S., Japan and Australia. Domestically, the President of the Philippine Senate Juan Zubiri has urged President BongBong Marcos Jr. to send the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines back home over the latest row, stating that China has “no heart” following their harassment of Filipinos in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Marcos blasted China’s actions in a social media post, stating that the country’s resolve has been further strengthened after the events over the weekend.

“The aggression and provocations perpetrated by the China Coast Guard and their Chinese Maritime Militia against our vessels and personnel over the weekend have only further steeled our determination to defend and protect our nation’s sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” Marcos said.
“We remain undeterred.”

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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