A China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel on Sunday collided with an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)-contracted boat going to the Ayungin Shoal for a resupply mission, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said.
NTF-WPS said the incident occurred at around 6:04 a.m., when the “dangerous blocking maneuvers” of China Coast Guard vessel 5203 (CCGV 5203) caused the collision with the AFP-contracted indigenous resupply boat Unaiza May 2 (UM2) approximately 13.5 nautical miles east northeast of the BRP Sierra Madre.
The UM2 was conducting a regular and routine rotation and resupply (RORE) mission to BRP Sierra Madre which has been grounded at the Ayungin Shoal since 1999.
“The provocative, irresponsible, and illegal action of CCGV 5203 imperiled the safety of the crew of UM2,” the task force said in a statement.
During the same RORE mission, the NTF-WPS said Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel MRRV 4409’s port side was also “bumped” by Chinese maritime militia vessel 00003 (CMMV 00003) while it was lying approximately 6.4NM northeast of Ayungin Shoal.
The task force condemned the incident, saying it violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights.
“The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) condemns in the strongest degree the latest dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal actions of the CCG and the Chinese Maritime Militia done this morning, in violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction and in utter blatant disregard of the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) and relevant international maritime conventions, and the 2016 Arbitral Award," it said in a statement.
An international advocacy group that has been monitoring the South China Sea situation said that this is the first time they have seen such a collision in the West Philippine Sea.
"This one, in terms of how close the ships came to one another and actually the fact that they actually touched one another on at least two occasions that we know of, is certainly marking a serious escalation on China’s part," said Ray Powell, director of monitoring team SeaLight at Stanford University's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, in Mav Gonzales' report on "24 Oras Weekend."
Earlier on Sunday, the CCG said it "lawfully" blocked Philippine vessels transporting "illegal construction materials" to BRP Sierra Madre.
"The Chinese coast guard ship intercepted the trespassing Philippine ship in accordance with the law even though multiple warnings were ineffective," it added.
"The Philippines' actions seriously violated the international rules for avoiding collisions at sea and threatened the navigation safety of our ships. Our operations were professional, standardized, legitimate and legal, and the responsibility lies entirely with the Philippines," the statement read.
Ayungin Shoal sits just 194 kilometers off Palawan province and is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The NTF-WPS said the RORE mission is still ongoing, with another Philippine boat, Unaiza May 1 (UM1), able to “successfully” reach BRP Sierra Madre to resupply the troops stationed there.
Relevant authorities were also informed of the incident and developments regarding the resupply mission, it added.
The United States and Canada on Sunday denounced the CCG's dangerous maneuvers against Philippine vessels on the way to Ayungin Shoal.
US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said the US condemned China's "latest disruption of a legal Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal," also known by its international name Second Thomas Shoal, and for "putting the lives of Filipino service members at risk."
"We stand with our #FriendsPartnersAllies in protecting Philippine sovereignty and in support of a #FreeAndOpenIndoPacific," Carlson said on X.
The Canadian Embassy in the Philippines, meanwhile, also condemned the collision, saying it was provoked by CCG’s “unlawful and dangerous conduct.”
“The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) actions are unjustified. China has no lawful claim to the West Philippine Sea. Its actions are incompatible with the obligations of a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the embassy said in a statement.
“Continuing acts of intimidation and coercion undermine safety, stability, and security across the region, and increase the risk of miscalculation,” it added.
France also expressed its "deep concern" over the incident. "France calls for respect of the freedom of navigation guaranteed by international law and reclass its attachment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the decision rendered by the Arbitral Court on July 12, 2016," the French embassy said in a statement, referring to an international tribunal's ruling that invalidated China's massive claims to most of the South China Sea.
In a post on X, European Union Ambassador Luc Veron said, "These incidents, their repetition and intensification are dangerous and very disturbing.
"We join the Philippines in its call for the full observance of International Law in the South China Sea."
British Ambassador Laure Beaufils said the UK also calls for "adherence to UNCLOS and the 2016 arbitral award."
"[The UK] is very concerned by reports of unsafe conduct towards Philippines vessels on their latest resupply mission to the Ayungin Shoal," she said in a post on X. "We oppose actions which raise tensions in the South China Sea." — KG/BM, GMA Integrated News