MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Chinese coast guard ship and one of its militia vessels separately bumped a Philippine coast guard ship and a military-run supply boat Sunday off a disputed shoal in the South China Sea “in dangerous, irresponsible and illegal actions,” Philippine officials said.
They did not say if there were injuries or damage from the two incidents off the Second Thomas Shoal, where there were two naval faceoffs in August. The Philippine government condemned the latest confrontation in “the strongest degree” and called it a violation of Manila’s sovereignty.
Chinese Embassy officials did not immediately comment on the Philippine report.
A Philippine government task force said the collisions occurred as two Philippine supply boats escorted by two Philippine coast guard ships were heading to deliver food and other supplies to the atoll in the face of a years-long Chinese blockade.
The task force said it “condemns in the strongest degree the latest dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal actions of the Chinese coast guard and the Chinese maritime militia done this morning in violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”
The actions by the Chinese ships were “in utter blatant disregard of the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” and international regulations that aim to prevent sea collisions, said the Philippine task force, which includes the country’s defense and foreign affairs departments, the military, national security council and the coast guard.
Near-collisions have happened frequently as Philippine vessels regularly deliver supplies to Filipino marines and sailors stationed on the disputed shoal. But this was the first time Philippine officials have reported their country’s vessels being hit by China’s ships.
In the first incident that happened Sunday morning, “dangerous blocking maneuvers of China coast guard vessel 5203 caused it to collide with the Armed Forces of the Philippines-contracted indigenous resupply boat Unaiza May 2,” the task force statement said. It said the “provocative, irresponsible, and illegal action” of the Chinese coast guard ship “imperiled the safety of the crew.”
Separately, Philippine coast guard ship BRP Cabra’s left side “was bumped by Chinese maritime militia vessel 00003 while it was lying to” northeast of the Second Thomas Shoal, the statement said.
Despite the Chinese coast guard blockade, one of the two Philippine navy-manned boats managed to maneuver past the Chinese vessels and deliver supplies to the small contingent stationed on board a long-marooned but still actively commissioned warship, the BRP Sierra Madre, the task force said.
It was the latest flare-up in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes. The conflicts, which involve China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, are regarded as a potential flashpoint and have become a delicate fault line in U.S.-China rivalry in the region.
In early August, a Chinese coast guard ship used a water cannon against one of two Philippine supply boats to prevent it from approaching Second Thomas Shoal. The move, which was caught on video, outraged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila to summon the Chinese ambassador to convey a strongly worded protest.
Washington reacted by renewing a warning that it is obligated to defend the Philippines as a treaty ally.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused Washington of “threatening China” by raising the possibility of activating the U.S.-Philippine mutual defense treaty. Beijing has repeatedly warned the U.S. not to meddle in regional territorial disputes.
Later in August, the Philippines again deployed two boats that got past the Chinese coast guard blockade and delivered supplies to the Filipino forces at Second Thomas Shoal. Two Philippine coast guard ships escorting the supply boats, however, were prevented by Chinese coast guard ships from maneuvering closer to the shoal. A U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft flew in circles in support of the Philippine vessels as the standoff continued for more than three hours.
A 2016 arbitration ruling set up under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea invalidated Beijing’s claims on historical grounds to virtually the entire South China Sea. China refused to participate in the arbitration sought by the Philippines, rejected the decision and continues to defy it.