A Chinese coast guard vessel targeted a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) boat supporting a resupply mission by the Philippine Navy for soldiers guarding the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) with military-grade laser, temporarily blinding some of the PCG personnel on board.
The China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel with bow number 5205 also made dangerous maneuvers against the PCG ship BRP Malapascua during the incident, the PCG said in a statement issued on Monday, as it slammed China’s actions within the Philippines’s maritime waters.
The harassments occurred on February 6 while the BRP Malapascua and its crewmen were supporting the resupply mission of the Navy for Filipino troops watching the Ayungin Shoal who are stationed at the partly sunken BRP Sierra Madre.
The incident occurred less than a week after the visit of United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III to the country wherein both countries agreed to restart the US-Philippines joint maritime patrols in Philippine waters and America’s access to additional locations for its troops’ rotational visits.
“On February 6, 2023, a China Coast Guard [CCG] vessel with bow number 5205 directed a military-grade laser light at the Philippine Coast Guard [PCG] vessel BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) while supporting a rotation and resupply [RoRe] mission of the Philippine Navy in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea,” the PCG said in a statement issued though its spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo.
The statement said that as the Malapascua sailed about 10 nautical miles from the shoal, Beijing’s coast guard vessel, which is about four nautical miles away from the PCG vessel, maneuvered from the portside toward Malapascua’s starboard side.
“The Chinese ship illuminated the green laser light twice toward the BRP Malapascua, causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge. The Chinese vessel also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel’s starboard quarter,” the PCG said.
The BRP Malapascua later changed its course from Ayungin Shoal and proceeded to Lawak Island to continue its maritime patrol and support the BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701) for the PCG’s own resupply mission to its sub-stations in the Kalayaan Island Group.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) had earlier reported that China’s coast guard has stepped up its patrols in maritime waters that Beijing is claiming in the South China Sea.
The report said the increased patrols covered and included Scarborough Shoal and Ayungin Shoal where China has intensified its harassment of Philippine resupply missions over the past months.
Balilo said the “deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies” to Filipino soldiers aboard the BRP Sierra Madre was a “blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of Philippine sovereign rights” in that part of West Philippine Sea.
In August last year, the same China Coast Guard vessel also prevented PCG ships from getting closer to the Ayungin Shoal while providing security to a Navy resupply mission.
The Chinese ship removed the cover of its 70mm naval gun when the BRP Teresa Magbanua inched closer to the shoal at a distance of 2.5 nautical miles.
The said CCG ship, together with two Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels and CCG 5102, formed a 13 nautical mile-radius blockade with the Sierra Madre as it prevented Philippine government ships from reaching the soldiers aboard the partly-submerged ship.
“In this particular mission, it was evident that the CMM vessels took orders from the CCG to prevent the Philippine ships from entering the shoal. The CMM even deployed their utility boats to support the blockade and shadowing by the CCG,” the PCG said.
Despite the incidents, PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu assured they would sustain the presence of their ships in the country’s maritime waters and exclusive economic zones.
“The PCG will continue to exercise due diligence in protecting the country’s territorial integrity against foreign aggression,” he said.
“Despite the dangerous maneuver of the much larger CCG ships and their aggressive actions at sea, the PCG ships will always be in the West Philippine Sea to sustain our presence and assert our sovereign rights,” he asserted.