Chinese, Philippine boats collide in South China Sea, both say

Camille Elemia
Chinese, Philippine boats collide in South China Sea, both say Chinese coast guard ships (left and right) corral a Philippine civilian boat chartered by the Philippines to deliver supplies to Philippine navy ship BRP Sierra Madre in the disputed South China Sea, Aug. 22, 2023.
Ted Aljibe/AFP

Chinese and Philippine boats collided in two separate incidents Sunday as Manila conducted its regular resupply mission to a military outpost in the South China Sea, with each side blaming the other for encounters that further elevated tensions in the disputed waters.

They took place in waters near Second Thomas Shoal where the Philippines maintains a navy ship as its military outpost in the Spratly islands, statements from both governments said. Neither mentioned any injuries. 

“While conducting a regular and routine rotation and resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre, 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 National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

“The provocative, irresponsible, and illegal action of CCGV 5203 imperiled the safety of the crew of UM2,” it added. 

“During the same mission, Philippine Coast Guard vessel MRRV 4409’s port side was bumped by Chinese Maritime Militia vessel 00003 (CMMV 00003) while it was lying to approximately 6.4 nautical miles northeast of Ayungin Shoal,” the task force said.

Only one of two supply ships being escorted by the Philippine Coast Guard was able to reach the shoal and deliver supplies to troops stationed there, it said.

The West Philippine Sea is Manila’s name for the part of the South China Sea within Manila’s exclusive economic zone. It encompasses Second Thomas Shoal, known locally as Ayungin Shoal and called Ren’ai Jiao by China. Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim jurisdiction over this feature.

Late Sunday, Beijing’s embassy in Manila said that Philippines vessels had “trespassed” and deliberately caused the collisions “to make faults with China and escalate the current situation.” 

It said the Unaiza May 2 sailed at the bow of a China Coast Guard vessel “on purpose, in a way that was not professional or safe, in spite of China’s advanced notice and repeated warnings.” 

About two hours later, “Philippine vessel 4409 began to astern deliberately, leading to collision of the stern of its vessel into the starboard of China’s static floating Qiong Sansha Yu 00003,” the statement said.

“The Philippines’ action seriously violated the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and threatened the navigation safety of the Chinese vessels,” it said.

In recent months, CCG and maritime militia vessels have consistently shadowed and blocked Philippine ships during resupply missions to the Sierra Madre, including by firing a water cannon at one of the Philippine boats delivering goods to the outpost in August.

An aerial view shows the BRP Sierra Madre in the contested Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin, in the South China Sea, March 9, 2023. [Reuters]

The Philippine government denounced Sunday's “dangerous” and “illegal” actions and said they were “in violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction." 

China’s actions, it added, were “in utter blatant disregard” of international rules and laws governing the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS).

The United States, Manila's main defense ally, commented via its embassy in Manila.

"The United States condemns the People's Republic of China's latest disruption of a legal Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, putting the lives of Filipino service members at risk. We stand with our friends, partners, allies in protecting Philippine sovereignty and in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific," U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson posted on X.

In July 2016, a Hague tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. Beijing, however, has ignored the ruling, citing history to insist on its claims. It has since carried on with its military expansionism in the strategic waterway, including building artificial islands. 

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed reporting from Davao City, southern Philippines and Jojo Rinoza from Manila.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.