China Coast Guard accused of hostile attack on Philippines supply boat in disputed South China Sea News
Philippine Coast Guard, Public domain
China Coast Guard accused of hostile attack on Philippines supply boat in disputed South China Sea

Philippine officials accused a Chinese Coast Guard ship on Saturday of hitting a Philippine supply boat with water cannons in the heavily disputed waters of the South China Sea, causing heavy damage to the vessel and injuring several crew members.

The Philippine supply boat was allegedly blocked from passage by Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels during a routine rotation and resupply (RoRe) mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded Philippine warship near the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the South China Sea. Philippine authorities assert that China then deployed water canons and executed dangerous maneuvers against the supply boat, leading to significant damage and causing injury to personnel onboard. 

Injured crew onboard the supply boat were rescued and given medical attention aboard the BRP Cabra, a Philippine patrol vessel. 

Jay Tarriela, the spokesperson for the Philippine Coast Guard, labelled the incident an act of “unprovoked aggression and coercion” in a statement shared to X (formerly Twitter). He continued, saying, “the systematic and consistent manner in which the PRC [People’s Republic of China] continues to carry out these illegal and irresponsible actions belies its hollow claims to peace, dialogue, and adherence to international law.”

China, in response, also released a statement detailing Saturday’s events. Gan Yu, the spokesperson for the Chinese Coast Guard, asserted that the Philippines was “deliberately disrupting the peace and stability of the South China Sea”, in its attempt to transport supplies to its “illegally grounded military vessel.”

“The China Coast Guard lawfully and professionally implemented regulation, interception, and expulsion,” Gan Yu said. “China Coast Guard is on high alert at all times, and will resolutely defend the country’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights. Those who play with fire will get burned.”

Saturday’s events are not isolated incidents; the South China Sea has been a major source of conflict between the two Asian countries for decades. China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory, and routinely deploys patrol vessels to enforce its territorial claims against so-called “trespassers.” However, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 ruled that China’s blanket territorial claims are unfounded. The Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) is within the Philippines’ 200-mile (320-km) exclusive economic zone, and the BRP Sierra Madre was permanently grounded there in the late 90s to bolster the Philippines’ claims. 

China has historically engaged in aggressive maneuvers to assert its claims of sovereignty. In 2023, the Chinese also fired water cannons at Philippine vessels, and a subsequent incident brought tensions to a head when a Chinese patrol vessel deliberated collided with a Philippine supply boat. More recently, the two nations participated in a bilateral consultation, after which they agreed to improve maritime communication and work towards peaceful resolution in the South China Sea. 

However, Saturday’s events appear to have brought an abrupt halt to any potential resolution. 

“The Philippines will not be deterred – by veiled threats or hostility – from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zones,” Tarriela concluded. “We demand that China demonstrate in deeds and not in words that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community.”