West Philippine Sea

China fires water cannon at Filipino ships in West PH sea

Jairo Bolledo

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China fires water cannon at Filipino ships in West PH sea

WATER CANNON. China uses water cannon again on Filipino ships in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard Reported on Saturday, December 9, 2023.

Philippine Coast Guard

'We firmly insist that these Chinese vessels leave Bajo de Masinloc immediately,' the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea says

MANILA, Philippines — China’s maritime forces have once again blasted water cannons at Filipino ships in the West Philippine Sea, Philippine authorities reported on Saturday, December 9.

In a statement, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS) said Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships used water cannons against the vessels of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) namely Datu Sanday, Datu Bankaw, and Datu Tamblot near Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal). The three BFAR ships are civilian vessels.

China fires water cannon at Filipino ships in West PH sea

The BFAR vessels are in a humanitarian and support mission to provide oil subsidy and grocery packs to over 30 Filipino fishing vessels around 1.4 to 1.9 nautical miles from the shoal when the Chinese maritime forces used water cannons to prevent these from approaching the Filipino ships. The CCG used its water cannons at least eight times, the task force said, adding that the humanitarian mission is ongoing.

“Water cannon action have resulted in significant damage to BFAR vessel Datu Tamblot’s communication and navigation equipment, as it was directly and  deliberately targeted by the China Coast Guard,” the Philippine authorities said.

Aside from water cannon attack, Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) ships also engaged in dangerous maneuvers and deployed “what understood to be” a long-range acoustic device — which can cause pain in the ears — against the BFAR vessels. This caused “temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew,” the NTFWPS said.

CMMs differ from CCGs — militias are fishermen rigorously trained and fully equipped by China’s armed forces.

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The NTFWPS also said that the Chinese forces deployed Rigid Full Inflatable Boats to disperse and drive away the Filipino vessels awaiting the BFAR ships. “To prevent the  distribution of humanitarian support is not only illegal but also inhumane.”

The task force added that Filipino fisherfolk also reported and documented that the CCG launched a small boat on Saturday morning to illegally install a floating barrier at the southeast entrance of Bajo de Masinloc, preventing Filipinos from accessing the shoal’s entrance.

“We stress that Bajo de Masinloc is a high-tide feature with territorial sea, per the 2016 Arbitral Award. It forms an integral part of the Philippine national territory under the Constitution. The Philippines exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over the shoal and its territorial sea,” the NTFWPS said.

“The 2016 Arbitral Award has also clarified that Filipinos have traditional fishing rights in the water of Bajo de Masinloc protected by international law.”

China fires water cannon at Filipino ships in West PH sea

The task force noted that Chinese forces’ interference with Philippine ships, harassments, and intimidations are violations of international law, particularly of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 arbitral award. The 2016 arbitral ruling strengthened the UNCLOS, which states that the Philippines has sovereign rights over features located within its exclusive economic zone or 12 to 200 nautical miles from the baseline of its territorial waters. 

“We firmly insist that these Chinese vessels leave Bajo de Masinloc immediately,” the task force demanded.

This was the latest intimidation of Chinese forces against Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea. Last November, Chinese ships also deployed water cannons and attempted to block vessels on a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, the country’s outpost in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas) in the West Philippine Sea.

This latest incident also came at the time when the Atin Ito coalition launched their maritime mission to honor the Filipinos who bear brunt of China’s intimidation in the West Philippine Sea and make a statement that ordinary Filipinos should be able to sail freely in their own waters.

On Saturday, the mission led by M/V Kapitan Felix Oca headed to Philippine-occupied features in the West Philippine Sea to bring supplies and Christmas cheer to the Filipinos in the area. — Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.