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PCG: China actions led to collision during latest Ayungin resupply mission

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Tuesday said its BRP Sindangan collided with a China coast guard (CCG) vessel during a resupply mission to the grounded ship BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

“Throughout the operation, the PCG vessels faced dangerous maneuvers and blocking from Chinese Coast Guard vessels and Chinese Maritime Militia,” PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said on X (formerly Twitter).

“Their reckless and illegal actions led to a collision between MRRV-4407 and China Coast Guard 21555 that resulted to minor structural damage to the PCG vessel,” he added.

This was not the first collision of Philippine and Chinese government ships in the West Philippine Sea.

In October 2023, a CCG vessel collided with an Armed Forces of the Philippines-contracted boat that was sailing for the Ayungin Shoal on a resupply mission.

According to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, the CCGV 5203 caused the collision with the Unaiza May 2 after performing  “dangerous blocking maneuvers.”

The ships collided approximately 13.5 nautical miles east northeast of the BRP Sierra Madre

During the same RORE mission, the 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.

Water cannon

Aside from the collision, the Philippine Navy also reported that one of the resupply boats, Unaizah May 4, was hit by a water cannon during the mission.

“The Unaizah Mae 4 was also hit by a water cannon. We are awaiting updates on damage to Unaizah Mae 4,” Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said in a press briefing.

Citing independent accounts, American maritime security analyst Ray Powell, who is monitoring the mission, said Unaizah May 4 sustained minor damage and injuries due to the water cannon incident.

“I've received sufficient independent (unofficial) accounts to report with high confidence that Unaizah May 4, 1 of the Philippines' two resupply boats, suffered minor damage & injuries resulting from use of a water cannon by a China Coast Guard ship this morning,” he said on X (formerly Twitter).

BRP Sindangan returned east likely escorting the damaged Unaiza May 4, said Powell, a former United States Air Force official and also former defense attaché.

“BRP Sindangan is now returning east toward home, likely escorting the damaged Unaiza May 4, which I understand is unable to continue. The other resupply boat, Unaiza May 1, has successfully reached the BRP Sierra Madre outpost,” Powell said.

But according to Trinidad, Unaizah May 1 was able to reach BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal and completed its mission.

“Unaizah Mae 1 has accomplished the mission. She has reached LT-57. Unaizah Mae 4 and the Coast Guard ships are still ongoing. We are waiting updates on the final report on status of the mission,” he said.

Four Chinese Coast Guard vessels and 11 Chinese maritime militia ships were monitored in the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal, according to Trinidad.

European Union's top diplomat to Manila, meanwhile, expressed serious concern over China's latest dangerous maneuvers against Philippine resupply vessels in WPS.

"Troubled by today's pattern of dangerous maneuvers and blocking from Chinese Coast Guard vessels and Maritime Militia targeting Philippine vessels engaged in crucial resupply missions," EU Ambassador Luc Veron said in a statement on X.

CCG side

The CCG, meanwhile, said it took control measures against Philippine vessels that illegally intruded into waters adjacent to the Second Thomas Shoal, which is a disputed atoll in the South China Sea.

Ayungin Shoal is also called Second Thomas Shoal.

A spokesperson for the China Coast Guard issued a statement on what it called the "illegal invasion of Scarborough Shoal by the Philippines," without releasing further details.

The CCG statement said the incident happened near waters adjacent to Renai Reef, also known as the Second Thomas Shoal, an area in the South China Sea that has seen numerous run-ins by China's coast guard and Philippine vessels over the past few months. 

'Clear, present challenge'

According to Trinidad, China is a “clear and present challenge” for the Philippine Navy in the WPS.

“I would consider China a clear and present challenge to the Philippine Navy in the West Philippine Sea. The situation is not anymore normal. But we are up to the challenge,” he said.

Trinidad enumerated some “not normal” actions by China in the area since 1992 including construction of markers, fishermen structures, and reclamations, as well as the militarization of the region.

“From 1992, when they started erecting markers on our shoals, shallow waters, reefs, and features in the WPS. In 1994, they prevented access to Mischief Reef. In late 90s, they started erecting fishermen structures in Mischief Reef. In 2011, they started reclamation. Then they militarize the area,” he said.

As of February 28, Manila has lodged nine diplomatic protests against China, Foreign Affairs Spokesman Teresita Daza said.

The total number of protests under the Marcos administration from July 2022 to February 28 of this year is 142, she added.

—with Reuters/KBK, GMA Integrated News