4 Philippine Sailors Injured, 2 Vessels Damaged in Chinese Attempt to Block Second Thomas Shoal Resupply

March 5, 2024 7:28 AM
China Coast Guard vessels 21555 and 21551 use water cannons on the Philippine Navy-operated, civilian chartered resupply boat Unaizah May 4 during its resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal. Screenshot from Philippine Coast Guard video

In the South China Sea on Tuesday, China Coast Guard cutters blasted water cannons and rammed Manila’s latest resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57) at Second Thomas Shoal, injuring crew and damaging vessels.
According National Task Force-West Philippine Sea statement on the incident, the civilian chartered resupply boat Unaizah May 4 and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Parola-class patrol vessel BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) were forced to turn back after Chinese ships blocked their passage.

Four Philippine Navy sailors sustained minor injuries after the two Chinese cutters used water cannons on Unaizah May 4, shattering the wooden resupply boat’s windshield.

Sindangan also sustained superficial damage during a close encounter with CCG vessel 21555.

Following these incidents, Sindangan escorted the damaged Unaizah May 4 back to Palawan to treat injured personnel. The remaining two Philippine vessels, resupply boat Unaizah May 1 and BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409) continued the mission, entered Second Thomas Shoal and resupplied Sierra Madre.

While Chinese vessels have rammed and deployed water cannons against Philippine vessels in previous resupply missions to the shoal, Tuesday is the first time Philippine personnel have been injured as a result of Beijing’s attempts to blockade Second Thomas Shoal since last year. Multiple PCG patrol boats and civilian resupply boats chartered by the Philippine Navy have been damaged in these incidents.

The Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines was summoned by the Department of Foreign Affairs shortly after the incident for a diplomatic protest. Manila further requested that all Chinese vessels leave the area surrounding the shoal immediately.

Run aground in 1999 to prevent other South China Sea claimants from occupying the feature, the Second World War-era landing ship tank Sierra Madre is at the core of Beijing’s long-running dispute with Manila over the Second Thomas Shoal. While attempts to disrupt Philippine resupply missions to the embarked Marine detachment onboard have occurred before 2023, it was only since last summer that Chinese forces began their concerted effort to disrupt these missions.

“There is not another place on the planet where a peacetime blockade is taking place in broad daylight,” Ray Powell, director of the SeaLight project at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, told USNI News regarding the feud.

As a result of the incident, Powell thinks that Manila “has the right to expect a more muscular response from its partners and allies.” After last year’s incidents, both the U.S. and Australia held joint maritime and aerial patrols with Philippine military forces in the South China Sea. The Philippines expects to hold more joint patrols with not only American and Australian forces, but also with countries such as France, Canada and Japan.

“Beijing has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to violently enforce the blockade of another country’s outpost within that country’s own exclusive economic zone. That should come with heavy sanction from the international community–or at least that part of it that respects internationally recognized laws, rules and norms,” said Powell.

Powell also expects more details and media from the incident to come out over the coming days, which “will add weight to Manila’s response.”

Yesterday, Philippine President BongBong Marcos vowed that the country would “push back” when its sovereignty was ignored in reference to China’s actions in the region during a speech in Australia. He further stressed that the Philippines’ stance on the South China Sea was guided by its interests, not at the “beck and call” of the United States.

According to Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies under the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, this recent incident serves to demonstrate the lengths the Philippines on the dispute.

“The Philippines is certainly intent on emphasizing its agency on its SCS interests, consistent with what’s already said and done since last year when tensions brewed up – not least what Marcos Jr and Manalo said most recently in Canberra. So what I see here is a conscious effort to underscore this consistency.”

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

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

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