(UPDATE) A CHINA Coast Guard (CCG) ship rammed a Philippine boat that was delivering supplies to Filipino troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal Sunday morning.
Based on monitoring by United States-based security expert Ray Powell, the incident involved the boat Unaiza May 1 and the CCG ship 21556.
It happened just hours after three vessels of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and several Philippine fishing boats were subjected to “illegal and aggressive actions” by CCG and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) ships off Bajo de Masinloc in the West Philippine Sea.
Powell said the Philippine Cost Guard (PCG) vessels BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan were escorting the Unaiza May 1 and another boat, the Kalayaan, during the resupply mission.
The Philippine convoy faced a blockading force of 14 Chinese militia ships and two CCG vessels, said Powell.
Hours earlier, three CCG ships and four People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy vessels had fired water cannons at the supply convoy.
The Sindangan was monitored to be closely engaged with the militia ship Qiong Sansha Yu 00012, while the CCG 5305 and two other militia vessels encircled the Sindangan about 13.5 kilometers from the entrance to the Ayungin Shoal.
The Chinese ships maneuvered dangerously close to the Philippine vessels that were approaching Ayungin, Powell said.
The CCG 5204 also fired a water cannon at the Kalayaan, damaging the engines and disabling the vessel.
The Sindangan had to tow the Kalayaan back to Ulugan Bay, Palawan.
The Chinese ship also fired the cannon at the Cabra, damaging its mast.
The National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS) on Sunday said that “contrary to China Coast Guard disinformation,” the Unaiza May 1 “was rammed by CCG 21556.”
Despite the incident, the boat was able to complete its mission, the task force said.
It condemned China’s latest “unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers” that have put the lives of Filipinos at risk.
The task force reiterated that Ayungin Shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and as upheld by the 2016 arbitral award.
An arbitral court in The Hague issued the landmark ruling after the Philippines challenged China’s territorial claim over the South China Sea.
“As a low tide elevation, Ayungin Shoal can neither be the subject of a sovereignty claim nor is it capable of appropriation under international law. China cannot lawfully exercise sovereignty over it,” the NTFWPS said.
“In this regard, the assertion of China that its actions in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal are a legitimate exercise of law enforcement measures, has no basis in international law. Further, we express grave concern over the deliberate disinformation conducted through official channels that distorts facts on the ground,” it added.
The task force said the “systematic and consistent manner” in which China carries out the “illegal and irresponsible actions” puts into question and significant doubt the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue.
The China Coast Guard, however, accused the Philippine boat of “deliberately colliding” with the Chinese vessel after “disregarding our multiple stern warnings.”
The Philippine boat “changed direction suddenly in an unprofessional, dangerous manner, deliberately colliding with our Coast Guard Vessel 21556, which was on a normal law enforcement route, and caused a scrape,” the CCG said in a statement.
It also alleged that the Philippine vessels were “attempting to deliver construction materials” to the “illegally beached” Sierra Madre.
Hours before the latest incident, a civilian convoy embarked on a trip that was to pass Second Thomas Shoal as part of a mission to deliver Christmas cheer and provisions to remote outposts.
The organizers said they would change course after the incident and go directly to Philippine-held Nanshan Island, where they would leave their cargo.
Second Thomas Shoal is about 200 kilometers from Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.
A handful of Filipino troops are stationed on the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine Navy grounded on the reef in 1999 to check China’s advance in the waters.
The troops depend on the resupply missions for their survival.
The Philippines and China have a long history of maritime incidents in the contested South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars of trade pass annually.
Relations between Manila and Beijing have deteriorated under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has sought to improve ties with traditional ally Washington and push back against Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
Marcos warned last month that the situation in the waters had become “more dire.”
WITH AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE