China Coast Guard Attacks Philippine Ships Near Scarborough Shoal, Say Officials

April 30, 2024 10:29 PM
Chinese cutters CCG-3105 and CCG-5303 deploy water cannons on BRP Bagacay (MRRV-4410) near Scarborough Shoal on April 30, 2024. Philippine Coast Guard Photo

Three China Coast Guard cutters rammed and used water cannons on a Philippine patrol and supply mission in the South China Sea near Scarborough Shoal on Tuesday, according to Philippine Coast Guard officials.
The attack on the supply mission comes ahead of a planned civilian convoy to the disputed feature and amid the ongoing Balikatan 2024 military exercise with the U.S.

The joint Philippine Coast Guard-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources mission was composed of the patrol vessels BRP Bagacay (MRRV-4410) and BRP Datu Bankaw (MMOV-3004), deployed to the area with the intent of resupplying Philippine fishermen operating in the region, which is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Datu Bankaw sustained eight water cannon blasts and three rammings from China Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels during the incident, according to local media. In a video taken by News5 onboard Datu Bankaw, the Chinese cutter is seen targeting the civilian vessel’s navigational equipment. The vessel’s electric and radio communication systems were also damaged, according to a statement by Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tariela.

Meanwhile, water pressure from the simultaneous water cannon deployment by Chinese cutters CCG-3105 and CCG-5303 damaged railings and other superficial structures onboard Bagacay. After the incidents, the two vessels conducted damage assessments twenty nautical miles away from Scarborough Shoal.

Chinese state media said the Philippine vessels were conducting dangerous maneuvers and that the China Coast Guard was “forced to use water cannons to warn the vessel.”

“The operation was reasonable, legitimate and professional,” reads a Global Times post on X.

Despite the harassment and attacks, the mission succeeded in resupplying Philippine fishing vessels in the evening.

Scarborough Shoal. NASA Photo

A cascade of diplomatic support also flowed in following the encounter, including a tweet by the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, MaryKay Loss Carlson, that the Philippines “can count on U.S. support as #FriendsPartnersAllies to uphold freedom of navigation and international law.”

This latest incident comes amid Balikatan 2024, the largest annual U.S.-Philippine military exercise. Included in this year’s exercise was a combined multilateral maritime exercise that took place in the South China Sea. However, while People’s Liberation Army Navy spy ships stalked the drills, these activities were not conducted in the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippine Coast Guard said China deployed another floating barrier blocking access to the shoal. Chinese forces placed a barrier at Scarborough Shoal last year that was removed by the Philippine Coast Guard.

In the coming weeks, the Philippine civic coalition Atin Ito is slated to conduct its own resupply and observation mission to Scarborough Shoal between May 14 to 17. According to the organization, over 100 civilian fishing vessels are expected to join the convoy.

This is Atin Ito’s second convoy to assert Philippine sovereignty in the South China Sea following an unsuccessful attempt in December.

Organizers of the convoy plan to distribute supplies to Philippine fishermen, embark media to document their voyage and place buoys emblazoned with the words “WPS, Atin Ito,” which translates to “the West Philippine Sea is Ours.” The West Philippine Sea is what Manila calls the area of the South China Sea that resides within its exclusive economic zone.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

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

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