West Philippine Sea

China ‘obstructs, delays’ PH medical evacuation from Ayungin Shoal 

Bea Cupin

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China ‘obstructs, delays’ PH medical evacuation from Ayungin Shoal 

EVACUATION. PCG and AFP personnel evacuate a soldier from the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal to mainland Palawan.

Philippine Coast Guard

(1st UPDATE) The PCG says the mission was carried out 'despite the threatening presence of various CCG small vessels'

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine forces – the military and its coast guard – were able to evacuate Philippine Navy personnel from the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal on July 7, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Tuesday, July 9, despite efforts by its Chinese counterpart to hamper the operation.

China ‘obstructs, delays’ PH medical evacuation from Ayungin Shoal 

“The PCG faced numerous obstructing and delaying maneuvers by CCG (China Coast Guard) vessels, but they remained steadfast to their humanitarian mission and was able to complete the transfer of the sick personnel from the LS-57 RHIB to the PCG RHIB,” said Commodore Jay Tarriela in a statement to media.

RHIB refers to rigid hull inflatable boats or small dingeys that larger PCG or military ships deploy to transport people and small items, or to reach shallower waters.

Two PCG vessels – the BRP Cabra and BRP Cape Engaño – rendezvoused with the RHIB deployed from the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting warship that’s been beached on Ayungin Shoal or Second Thomas Shoal since 1999. The atoll is located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but like most of the South China Sea, China claims it as part of its territory.

“Despite the threatening presence of various CCG small vessels, the PCG RHIB was able to return to the main PCG vessel without further interruption. The sick personnel was then provided with urgent medical attention. The personnel is now stable,” said Tarriela.

China’s coast guard meanwhile said late on Tuesday it had “allowed” the Philippines to evacuate the person who had fallen ill on humanitarian grounds, adding that it monitored and verified the entire operation on Sunday, which its spokesperson said was at the request from relevant parties in the Philippines.

Video from the PCG shows three steel hull CCG vessels and one Chinese Navy RHIB surrounding the two RHIBs of the PCG and BRP Sierra Madre.

Philippine Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Rear Admiral Roy Trinidad earlier told a press conference that a soldier deployed to the BRP Sierra Madre needed immediate medical assistance.

Without disclosing the specifics of his case, Trinidad said the soldier was already recovering at a military hospital in mainland Palawan.

Ayungin Shoal is a flashpoint for tensions between Manila and Beijing in the West Philippine Sea.

The CCG routinely harasses Philippine missions in and out of the shoal, including medical evacuations.

On June 17, the worst and most violent confrontation between Philippine and Chinese personnel happened just at the foot of the BRP Sierra Madre, with CCG personnel harassing, towing, boarding, and destroying the RHIBs of the Philippine Navy. The Philippines has demanded that China pay for the damaged RHIBs and equipment, as well as pay for the rehabilitation of a soldier who lost his finger from China’s high-speed ramming.

The Philippine military also wants China to return the seven rifles it took during the incident. – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.