Timeline of Chinese Harassment of Second Thomas Shoal Resupply Missions

April 4, 2024 2:14 PM

The following is a list of Chinese attempts to block the resupply missions to the Philippine Armed Forces outpost BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea since August.

March 23

A China Coast Guard cutter blasts the resupply vessel Unaizah Mae 4 on March 23, 2024. Armed Force of the Philippines Image

Consecutive barrages from China Coast Guard water cannons ripped through Unaizah Mae 4, injuring multiple Philippine Navy sailors. A video of the incident released by local media showed water cannon blasts going through the ship, and images released later showed the wooden boat’s wrecked superstructure. The water cannon barrage also crippled Unaizah Mae 4’s propulsion. An escort had to tow the stricken vessel back to port. CCG and CMM vessels further harassed the resupply mission. Despite the cannon attack and attempted deployment of a barrier cutting off the Second Thomas Shoal, the limping Unaizah Mae 4 still managed to deliver supplies and rotate personnel via the use of small boats. In a press briefing to local media, Philippine military leadership stated that this was the first time a resupply boat failed to dock alongside BRP Sierra Madre and only the second time Philippine personnel have been injured resupplying the wreck since China’s harassment campaign began in August.

March 5

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

China Coast Guard water cannons shattered the windshield of the resupply boat Unaizah Mae 4, injuring four PN sailors. BRP Sindangan escorted the damaged resupply boat to Palawan while BRP Cabra and Unaizah Mae 1 continued on to Second Thomas Shoal,successfully resupplying BRP Sierra Madre. The head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command, the unified command responsible for Palawan and the Spratly Islands, was onboard Unaizah Mae 4 during the incident. BRP Sindangan also collided with a China Coast Guard patrol ship, suffering minor damage. This marked the first time since the beginning of China’s harassment campaign that personnel were injured.

Dec. 10

Philippine Coast Guard escort BRP Cabra and resupply vessel MV Kalayaan were damaged by CCG water cannons. Kalayaan’s propulsion was knocked out after water from the attacks damaged the engine compartment. The resupply vessel, which was acting as a replacement for the previously damaged Unaizah Mae 2, had to be towed back to Palawan by BRP Cabra. Meanwhile, the second resupply vessel, Unaizah Mae 1, was rammed by Chinese vessels. Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. was onboard at the time to visit the Marine detachment aboard BRP Sierra Madre. While three vessels were damaged, the resupply mission succeeded. Following the incident, Philippine military officials voiced their concerns about Chinese escalation, raising the possibility that China could board Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard vessels in future resupply missions. CMM vessels were also spotted around Second Thomas Shoal a few days after the incident.

Nov, 10

China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia conducted a variety of potentially dangerous maneuvers to disrupt a resupply mission, including using of a water cannon on the resupply vessel ML Kalayaan and deploying small boats to harass Unaizah Mae 1. Both resupply boats still made it to BRP Sierra Madre. A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon was spotted overflying Second Thomas Shoal. This was later confirmed by a Philippine military spokesperson, who said the Poseidon was supporting the resupply mission. He said the maritime patrol aircraft helped Philippine forces “enhance our maritime domain awareness.”

Oct. 22

AFP Photo

Unaizah Mae 2 and PCG escort BRP Cabra collided with China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia vessels attempting to block their path to Second Thomas Shoal. Both vessels sustained damage, though there was no injuries to the Philippine crews. The other resupply vessel, Unaizah Mae 1, successfully made it to Second Thomas Shoal.

Oct 6

PCG Photo

People’s Liberation Army Navy, China Coast Guard and CMM vessels shadowed and conducted dangerous maneuvers around the Philippine resupply mission. A Chinese frigate came within half a nautical mile of a resupply ship for the first time, according to Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tariella. A PLA Y-8Q surveillance aircraft was also spotted overflying the shoal. The presence of PLA assets did not halt the mission, which reached the Second Thomas Shoal.

Sept. 8

A combined total of eight China Coast Guard and China maritime militia vessels harassed and attempted to impede Philippine resupply vessels and their PCG escorts. The mission successfully made it to BRP Sierra Madre. A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon appeared and loitered over the resupply mission, stating in an open radio call that it would observe “any unsafe or unprofessional actions.” Journalists embarked on Philippine Coast Guard escort BRP Cabra noted that U.S. presence was visually observed again before sunset.

Aug. 22

China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia harassed and attempted to block a resupply mission using aggressive maneuvers. A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon and an Army MQ-9 flew over the resupply mission, demonstrating American support. The resupply mission successfully reached Second Thomas Shoal.

Aug. 5

China Coast Guard water cannon barrages hit BRP Malabrigo and one of the civilian-contracted supply boats. Chinese vessels, including those from the Chinese maritime militia, also conducted risky maneuvers in an attempt to block the resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre. A Philippine Coast Guard release also noted the nearby presence of PLAN warships. While the incident marked the first use of a water cannon against a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal since 2021, the resupply mission succeeded.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

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

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