Chinese Small Boats Attempted to Block Philippine Medical Evacuation, Scientific Mission in the South China Sea

June 7, 2024 6:29 PM - Updated: June 10, 2024 7:07 AM
China Coast Guard Cutter blocked a medical evacuation on May 19, 2024. Philippine Coast Guard Photo

Six China Coast Guard vessels attempted to stop the medical evacuation of a Philippine military serviceman from Second Thomas Shoal last month, official said this week

According to Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriela, the agency deployed a high-speed response boat to BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57) on May 19 to evacuate a sick service member from Second Thomas Shoal. A Philippine Navy rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) with the ill sailor set out from the beached outpost to meet the other boat.

Videos of the incident released by the Philippine Coast Guard show Chinese small boats swarming the vessels. Despite calls from the Philippine Coast Guard describing their humanitarian mission, the China Coast Guard continued to engage in blocking maneuvers. During the transfer of the sick Philippine Navy serviceman to the coast guard boat, a Chinese RHIB can be seen ramming the two vessels in an attempt to stop the evacuation.

The sick serviceman was successfully transferred nonetheless, and was sent to a hospital in the Philippine province of Palawan for medical treatment.

Tarriela described the China Coast Guard’s actions as “barbaric and inhumane behavior.”

“Their actions clearly demonstrated their intention to prevent the sick personnel from receiving the proper medical attention he urgently needed,” he said in a social media statement on the incident.

On the same day, the Marine contingent onboard Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal drew their firearms in what Philippine military chief Romeo Brawner described as self-defense in response to Chinese vessels getting within five meters of Manila’s rusting outpost. 

On Tuesday, Chinese forces swarmed a Philippine Coast Guard-escorted scientific mission to Sabina Shoal. Civilian scientific personnel from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute were harassed and pursued by Chinese small boats, helicopters and hovercraft. Chinese actions during this encounter were described as “amphibious operations.”

The civilian scientific mission was investigating the ecological destruction of Sabina Shoal, which the Philippine government says was an attempt by China to reclaim shoal. In May, the Philippine Coast Guard reportedly found crushed coral, which it says shows China is attempting to reclaim an artificial island.

Since then, the disputed feature has been the site of an apparent showdown between Beijing and Manila, with the latter deploying Coast Guard flagship BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701) to the shoal for the past few months. Tarriela previously claimed that the Philippine Coast Guard stopped Beijing’s plans to construct an artificial island.


Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

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

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