Chinese vessels again accused of ‘dangerous maneuvers’
MANILA, Philippines — Chinese coast guard ships maneuvered dangerously close to two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships supporting a Philippine Navy resupply mission in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea last week, the latest of Beijing’s coercive actions in the hotly contested waterway.
“The Philippine Coast Guard is concerned about the behavior of the Chinese coast guard vessels. It seems like they are putting in extra effort to stop us from reaching Ayungin Shoal,” PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela told the Inquirer on Tuesday.
The China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels with bow numbers 4203 and 5201 conducted “dangerous maneuvers” to block the PCG’s 44-meter vessels BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) and BRP Malabrigo (MRRV-4402) from coming closer to the shoal, he said.
Ayungin Shoal, a submerged reef 194 kilometers off Palawan province, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, where the Navy maintains its presence through the decrepit BRP Sierra Madre. China, however, claims almost all of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.
The CCG 4203 “deliberately” cut off BRP Malabrigo at one point, forcing it to slow down to avoid a collision. The Chinese ship came within “less than 100 yards” of the PCG vessel while radio challenges were exchanged, Tarriela said.
2 Chinese warships
“In their attempts to hinder passage and discourage our PCG vessels from approaching Ayungin Shoal, the China Coast Guard vessels have flagrantly disregarded the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea,” he added.
Six Chinese militia vessels were also spotted at the northeast entrance of the shoal as if to serve as a barricade to prevent the PCG ships from entering, Tarriela said. In addition, two People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) vessels were monitored in the vicinity of the shoal during the mission.
“The PCG is alarmed about the presence of two PLA-N vessels in Ayungin Shoal. It is particularly alarming because the Philippine Navy’s naval operation is solely intended for humanitarian purposes. Despite this, the Chinese are deploying their warships, which raises even greater concerns,” he said.
Moments later, another Chinese coast guard vessel with bow number 3103, which traveled from Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal showed up in the area and challenged the PCG ships on the radio, in an apparent attempt to act as a reinforcement, Tarriela said.