Philippines: 4 boat crew hurt as China Coast Guard fires water cannon

Manila’s vessels were en route to deliver supplies to its military outpost in the disputed South China Sea.
By BenarNews staff
2024.03.05
Manila
Philippines: 4 boat crew hurt as China Coast Guard fires water cannon China Coast Guard ships (left and right) deploy water cannons at the Philippine military-chartered civilian boat Unaizah May 4 (center) during its supply mission near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea in this frame grab from aerial video footage taken on March 5, 2024.
[Handout/Philippine Coast Guard(PCG)/AFP]

Four Filipino crew members were injured Tuesday when China Coast Guard ships used water cannons to block Philippine vessels taking supplies to Manila’s military outpost at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the South China Sea, Filipino officials said.

Chinese and Philippine ships have engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase in waters around the shoal for more than a year, with Manila accusing Beijing of “aggressively” trying to stop its vessels from delivering supplies to Filipino troops stationed at Ayungin.

Tuesday’s incident marked the first time that Manila said that people had been injured in these maneuvers. China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, while the Philippines maintains that the shoal is located inside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the waterway.

On Tuesday, China Coast Guard (CCG) ships and China Maritime Militia vessels were again attempting to block a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II-era navy ship that the Philippines grounded on the shoal to serve as its outpost in the disputed waters, Philippine officials said.

A CCG vessel early Tuesday morning “executed dangerous blocking maneuvers against the PCG vessel MRRV 4407, resulting in a minor collision and slight damage,” the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

About two hours later, four crew on board the Filipino supply boat, Uniza May 4, were injured when two CCG ships simultaneously fired water cannon at it, shattering the windshield, the task force said.

The West Philippine Sea is Manila’s name for South China Sea waters that lie within its EEZ.

The supply boat was forced to turn back, but its sister vessel, Uniza May 1, was able to reach the BRP Sierra Madre and complete the resupply mission, the task force said.

“The systematic and consistent manner in which the People’s Republic of China carries out illegal and irresponsible actions puts into question the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue and lessening tensions,” it said.

Later in the day, the Philippines government summoned the Chinese deputy chief of mission in Manila to convey a diplomatic protest over the incident, said Philippine foreign affairs spokeswoman Ma. Teresita Daza.

“During the meeting, the Philippines stressed, among other [things], that China’s interference with the Philippines’ routine and lawful activities in its own exclusive economic zone is unacceptable,” she said.

“The Philippines demands that Chinese vessels leave the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal immediately.”

In Beijing, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said the Philippine vessels had  “intruded” into the waters of the shoal “without permission” from the Chinese government.

“[The] China Coast Guard took necessary measures toward Philippine vessels in accordance with [the] law. The actions taken at the scene were professional, restrained, justified and lawful,” Mao said.

“The Chinese Foreign Ministry has lodged serious representations to the Philippine side to express strong protest.”

The latest tense incident at sea occurred less than 24 hours after Enrique Manalo, the Philippines’ top diplomat, called for countries to respect the international rule of law in the South China Sea and other maritime regions.

“The shared stewardship of the seas and oceans in the region behooves us to unite in preserving the primacy of international law so we can ensure equitable and sustainable outcomes for all,” Manalo said Monday during a speech in Melbourne on the sidelines of a summit marking the 50th anniversary of relations between Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. 

“It also calls for us to stand firmly together in opposing actions that contradict or are inconsistent with international law.”

‘Peacetime blockade’

Maritime security expert Ray Powell said China had demonstrated that it would enforce its blockade with violence.

“This incident – in which four Filipinos were injured aboard a civilian vessel on a legitimate resupply mission to a Philippine outpost within that country’s own exclusive economic zone – should awaken the outrage of the international community that proclaims its concern over the rules-based order,” Powell, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, told BenarNews.

“There is no other place on the planet in which one country is carrying out a peacetime blockade of another country’s outpost in broad daylight. This should invite more than mere finger-wagging from the international community.”

Last week, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told Australian lawmakers that his administration would resist any effort by a foreign power to infringe upon the Philippines’ sovereignty.

“I shall never tire of repeating the declaration that I made from the first day that I took office: I will not allow any attempt by any foreign power to take even one square inch of our sovereign territory,” Marcos told Australian legislators, without naming China.

China lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea, but its claims overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

In 2016, the Philippines won a landmark case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that threw out China’s expansive claims. Beijing, however, has ignored the ruling and carried on with its military expansionism in the strategic waterway, including building artificial islands.

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Marykay Carlson spoke out strongly against the latest incident in the South China Sea.

“We strongly condemn [China’s] dangerous maneuvers at Second Thomas Shoal, which endangered lives, resulted in injuries and damaged Philippine Coast Guard  vessels,” Carlson said.

“The U.S. stands with the Philippines and proponents of international law in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Jason Gutierrez and Jeoffrey Maitem in Manila contributed to this report.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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