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Resupply ship reaches Ayungin Shoal despite reported harassment


(Updated 6:15 p.m.)  A Philippine Navy research vessel loaded with Philippine troops, supplies, and members of the media managed to reach Ayungin Shoal on Saturday afternoon despite reported efforts by the Chinese Coast Guard to block it. 

“At about 3 p.m. today, The AFP, on board a civilian vessel, was able to resupply, reprovision and rotate troops on board LT 57 BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal,” Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col Ramon Zagala told GMA News Online in a text message.

He neither denied nor confirmed the reported harassment by two Chinese ships but said there is a pending report on the matter.

“We will let media report the incident [for now] since they were on board,” Zagala explained.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, "[condemned] the harassment by the Chinese Coast Guard of our civilian vessels."

DFA spokesman Charles Jose reiterated that Ayungin Shoal, also called Second Thomas Shoal, is part of the country's continental shelf and that the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over it.

"We demand that China cease taking actions that are [a] threat to our security," Jose said in a statement  shared on social media Saturday evening.

'Harassment'

Radio DZBB in Manila earlier reported the vessel was bringing supplies to the troops aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal when the harassment occurred.

GMA TV reporter Ian Cruz, aboard the Philippine civilian vessel, told dzBB one of the two large Chinese sea craft with hull number 3401 passed in front of the Philippine vessel and blocked its path.

A second Chinese vessel had hull number 1127, he added.
 
Screen capture from a report filed by GMA News reporter Ian Cruz

The DZBB report said the Philippine civilian boat also carried troops who were to replace the Philippine forces aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin SHoal.

Cruz said the crew aboard the Chinese vessels demanded that the Philippine vessel leave the area because it was encroaching on Chinese territory.

He added the Philippine vessel had foreign correspondents and Philippine media representatives aboard.
 
The BRP Sierra Madre (LT 57), a Philippine Navy ship grounded on Ayungin Shoal, is manned by Philippine Marines

The incident came amid heightened tension between the Philippines and China over a disputed part of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The harassment came after the Philippines announced it will file a case against China over the disputed South China Sea at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague next week, subjecting Beijing to international legal scrutiny over the increasingly tense waters for the first time.

Manila is seeking a ruling to confirm its right to exploit the waters in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as allowed under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), its team of US and British lawyers said.

A ruling against China by the five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration could prompt other claimants to challenge Beijing, experts said.

But while legally binding, any ruling would effectively be unenforceable as there is no body under UNCLOS to police such decisions, legal experts said.

China, which has refused to participate in the case, claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.

The UN convention gives a country 12 nautical miles of territorial control with claim to sovereign rights to explore, exploit and manage natural resources within 200 miles. China claims several reefs and shoals in Manila's EEZ. — with a Reuters report, Amanda Fernandez and Andrei Medina /LBG/JDS, GMA News
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