West Philippine Sea

‘Ramming and towing’: Philippines says China disrupted mission to Ayungin Shoal 

Bea Cupin

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‘Ramming and towing’: Philippines says China disrupted mission to Ayungin Shoal 

STAKING CLAIMS. A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Ayungin Shoal, on March 29, 2014.

Erik de Castro/Reuters

(1st UPDATE) The Philippines says China 'put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ National Security Council (NSC) said Monday evening, June 17, that China used “dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing,” to disrupt a routine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. 

The statement came more than 12 hours after the China Coast Guard, in a statement, claimed a collision took place between Philippine and Chinese vessels off the waters of Ayungin Shoal

“The People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N), China Coast Guard (CCG), and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels engaged in dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing. Despite the illegal, aggressive, and reckless actions by the Chinese maritime forces, our personnel showed restraint and professionalism, refrained from escalating the tension, and carried on with their mission,” said the NSC in its statement. 

At least once a month, the Western Command conducts a rotation and resupply mission to bring crucial provisions to soldiers who are stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre for months at a time. The rusting World War II vessel, which ran ground on purpose in 1999, serves as a Philippine military outpost in those waters. 

The NSC, without going into detail, said China’s “illegal, aggressive, and reckless actions” during the mission “put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats, in blatant violation of international law, particularly the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the 2016 Arbitral Award.”

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“The Philippines is committed to pursuing peaceful and responsible actions in accordance with international law. It is our expectation that China, as a member of the international community, would also do the same,” added the NSC. 

China: ‘Justified, lawful’

China disputed the NSC’s claim.

In a press conference in Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian claimed that Chinese “maneuvers at the scene were professional, restrained, justified and lawful.”

According to him, “one [Philippine] supply vessel and two speed boats” tried to reach Ayungin Shoal “in an attempt to send materials, including construction materials” to the BRP Sierra Madre. 

In a separate statement that was sent to the media minutes before the NSC’s, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said the AFP would “resist” China’s “dangerous and reckless behavior in the West Philippine Sea.” 

“Their behavior contravenes their statements of good faith and decency… It should now be clear to the international community that China’s actions are the true obstacles to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he added. 

Ayungin Shoal, also called Second Thomas Shoal, is a flashpoint for tensions between the Philippines and China. The feature is just over 100 nautical miles away from mainland Palawan and is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, which includes the Philippine EEZ. 

Resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal are often tense and sometimes dangerous. China has used its coast guard water cannons against Philippine vessels in an attempt to block them.

In late May 2024, for instance, China tried to disrupt an aerial resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre. Video from the Philippines showed Chinese personnel aboard rubber boats trying to grab supplies meant for Filipino soldiers. That same day, China tried to block a medical evacuation to bring soldiers from Ayungin to mainland Palawan. – 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.