China Attacks Philippine Ship, Injures Crew in Latest Escalation of South China Sea Standoff

March 23, 2024 4:38 PM
Philippine Coast Guard Image

Chinese ships blasted water cannons at ships on Manila’s latest resupply mission to the South China Sea outpost on Second Thomas Shoal today, resulting in an unspecified number of injuries and heavy damage onboard one of the Philippine vessels.

The resupply mission was publicly revealed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as soon as the civilian-contracted on Friday, Philippine Navy-operated resupply boat Unaizah Mae 4 sortied from Palawan in a move to provide transparency on the upcoming Chinese harassment.

Unaizah Mae 4 was previously the victim of Chinese harassment during a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57 earlier this month that resulted in four injured Philippine Navy personnel after China Coast Guard water cannons shattered the boat’s windshield.

Alongside the Philippine Coast Guard escorts BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) and BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409), it was also revealed in the same press statement that two unspecified Philippine Navy vessels were deployed to “support the mission.” While the Philippine Navy has deployed vessels to support previous missions, as seen in the Oct. 21st resupply run, these ships do not provide immediate escort to the resupply boats and were not seen in any media from the Philippines and China relating to this mission.

This incident between the two countries over the South China Sea feature saw Unaizah Mae 4 come under repeated water cannon barrages. These actions eventually incapacitated the wooden vessel, which had to be relieved by Sindangan and Cabra. The resupply vessel had to be towed back to port as a result of this extensive damage.

A similar incident occurred in a Dec. resupply mission, which required the civilian-contracted resupply boat ML Kalayaan to be towed back after being blasted by water cannons.

Despite the damages incurred by Chinese forces, the Philippine resupply mission persisted and eventually reached Second Thomas Shoal after six hours of harassment. According to a statement from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, the China Coast Guard further attempted to block the operation by deploying a barrier at the entrance of the shoal’s lagoon.

The Marines onboard Sierra Madre had to deploy RHIBs to complete the resupply and personnel rotation, as Unaizah Mae 4 did not have the ability to come alongside the outpost. The mission concluded eight hours after it started, resulting in yet more injuries and damage to a Philippine Navy-crewed vessel.

Chinese attempts to stop the Philippine resupply missions have escalated since they began last summer. While Manila has strengthened its defense and security relations with the U.S., Australia and Japan and brought the issue to international headlines through a media campaign, China has doubled down on its efforts through the deployment of new measures and increasing the amount of vessels deployed to block the missions.

“We need to start calling this what it is–China’s illegal blockade of an outpost within the Philippines’ own lawful exclusive economic zone,” Ray Powell, director of the SeaLight project at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, told USNI News following today’s incident.

Powell also stressed the need for the U.S. to “impose costs” through diplomatic and economic measures on China for its aggression against the Philippines.

“The BRP Sierra Madre has been at Second Thomas Shoal for a quarter century, and China’s clear objective is to employ the threat and unprovoked use of force to compel Manila into abandoning its position. The fact that this is happening in ‘peacetime’ makes it all the more outrageous.”

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

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

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox