Latest blockade try involved 38 Chinese ships – PCG
MANILA, Philippines — The latest resupply mission to a remote military outpost in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) saw as many as 38 Chinese vessels in the vicinity of the shoal, 11 of which “actively participated” in harassing Filipino boats in an attempt to impede the trip on Friday.
The number of Chinese vessels was the highest to date, according to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which tallied 28 from the Chinese maritime militia, five from the China Coast Guard (CCG), and five from the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
As a US Navy plane circled overhead, two supply boats used by the Philippine Navy and three accompanying PCG ships struggled to move past the Chinese blockades.
The Inquirer was among the news organizations selected by the PCG to join the mission.
Five Chinese coast guard and at least six of the Chinese maritime militia vessels took part in harassing the Filipino boats, the PCG said.
But the mission was still a success despite Chinese harassment. The boats were able to transport their load of supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre—a grounded warship serving as a naval detachment in Ayungin—almost three weeks after two collisions between Filipino and Chinese vessels prevented them from ferrying all their supplies.
The Filipino vessels also had to deal with choppy waters across the vast, blue expanse of the WPS after they left Palawan province on Thursday morning.
The BRP Sindangan, one of the PCG’s escort vessels, broke away from the first line of blockade just in time to witness from around 800 yards how a Chinese coast guard ship blasted a water cannon toward the ML Kalayaan, a rescue vessel of the island municipality overseeing the WPS that was borrowed by the Philippine Navy for the mission.
The ML Kalayaan replaced the Unaizah May 2, one of the two supply boats that was damaged after it collided with the CCG vessel during the previous resupply mission almost three weeks ago.
Some members of the municipal council of Kalayaan had opposed the decision of Mayor Roberto del Mundo to lend the boat for the resupply mission.
“I’m worried. China bullies even our small fishing boats. Our vessel could get dragged and be harassed in the future,” said Eugenio Bito-onon, a predecessor of Del Mundo.
The latest mission was also the first time in several months that the PCG deployed three escort ships, instead of the usual two. The 97-meter BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702) was sent on top of the usual two 44-meter Japanese-built PCG patrol ships.
No control of shoal
“Her deployment depends on the magnitude of operational need that we have. In that instance, it was part of a routine movement. But it can’t be a standard because a ship’s deployment will depend on various functions,” said PCG commandant Adm. Ronnie Gil Gavan.
Chinese vessels carried out “dangerous maneuvers” against the outnumbered Filipino vessels all throughout.
All the three PCG ships made it almost 2 kilometers from the shoal’s entrance, the closest they have come so far during a resupply mission, PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said.
The PCG ships each deployed a rubber boat carrying journalists to go near the BRP Sierra Madre to show that China has no control of Ayungin Shoal, contrary to its claims, he said.
The CCG deployed three of their boats to chase the PCG rubber dinghies, but they were intercepted by the Philippine Navy’s rigid hull inflatable boats at the shoal’s entrance.
And under the scorching heat of the sun, there it was: a rusting shipwreck in a sorry state yet proudly flying the Philippine flag, keeping itself together to serve as a symbol of unwavering resolve to guard against Chinese expansion on this part of the WPS.