8 PH Navy men injured; one had finger cut off

China Coast Guard

A China Coast Guard ship maneuvers past a Philippine fishing boat during the distribution of fuel and food to fishers by the civilian-led mission Atin Ito (This Is Ours) Coalition, in the disputed South China Sea on May 16, 2024. A Philippine boat convoy bearing supplies for Filipino fishers said they were headed back to port May 16, ditching plans to sail to a Beijing-held reef off the Southeast Asian country after one of their boats was “constantly shadowed” by a Chinese vessel. —photo by Ted Aljibe/Agence France-Presse

MANILA, Philippines — At least eight Philippine Navy sailors were injured after Chinese vessels on Monday sought to drive away their vessels on a rotation and resupply mission to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

READ: China ships ram, tow PH vessels at Ayungin

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The troops, including one whose finger got cut off, were wounded during a confrontation with Chinese forces that rammed and towed their rigid hull inflatable boats as they tried to reach grounded warship BRP Sierra Madre, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity due to lack of authority to speak on the matter.

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Chinese troops also seized firearms of the Navy when they boarded one of the inflatable boats, the source said. This marked the first time that China boarded a Philippine boat and conducted a search.

The troops were not able to complete the resupply mission, the source said.

In a statement, Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad confirmed that one Navy sailor sustained a “severe injury” after an “intentional high-speed ramming” by the China Coast Guard (CCG) during the resupply mission.

Trinidad did not provide any further details, but said the injured was safely evacuated and received medical treatment.

‘Trespassing’

The developments at Ayungin followed after China’s new coast guard rules took effect over the weekend. Under the said rules, the CCG can detain for up to 60 days foreigners found “trespassing” Beijing-claimed waters.

State-run newspaper China Daily, quoting CCG spokesperson Gan Yu, also reported on Tuesday that the CCG “boarded, inspected and drove away Philippine vessels that illegally intruded” Ren’ai Reef—Beijing’s name for Ayungin Shoal.

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Gan said the Philippines had violated its commitments by dispatching a supply ship and two inflatable boats into waters near Ayungin and attempting to deliver supplies to the Sierra Madre.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea on Monday called out China’s “illegal, aggressive, and reckless actions by the Chinese maritime forces.”

The task force said “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.”

These actions put “the lives at risk 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 and the 2016 Arbitral Award,” the task force said.

US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson had also noted in her statement on Monday that China’s “aggressive, dangerous maneuvers near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal [had] caused bodily injury, damaged Philippine vessels, and hindered lawful maritime operations to supply food, water, and essential supplies to Philippine personnel within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”

‘Serious discussions’

In response to Monday’s incident at Ayungin, American maritime security expert Ray Powell said Manila and Washington should now hold “serious discussions” on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Under the 1951 treaty, which US President Joe Biden had described as “iron-clad,” the Philippines and the United States are committed to come to each other’s defense following an armed attack on either country.

“There needs to be serious MDT discussions now between the US and the Philippines,” Powell told the Inquirer on Tuesday. “First, China is clearly now blockading a Philippine military outpost, which already crosses the line into ‘act of war’ territory.”

“Boarding and towing naval vessels and confiscating weapons indicates that Beijing seems convinced it can act with impunity,” said the expert, who is director of the SeaLight project of Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. The project tracks operations at Ayungin and other parts of the South China Sea through satellite imagery.

Meanwhile a coalition of activists opposed to Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea called for the expulsion of Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian.

“We demand an immediate and strong response from our government, including the expulsion of the Chinese envoy to the Philippines and China’s surrender of its personnel responsible for causing serious harm to our front-liners and damage to our vessels,” Rafaela David, coconvener of the “Atin Ito” (This Is Ours) coalition, said in a statement on Tuesday.

She called the incident “a vile and barbaric act of intimidation in our own exclusive economic zone.”

“The Chinese coast guard has descended to the depths of thuggery, acting as goons and a scourge of the West Philippine Sea,” said David, who is also president of Akbayan party.

In April last year, Akbayan called for Huang’s expulsion after he expressed concern over US access to military bases in northern Luzon and advised the Philippines to “unequivocally oppose” Taiwan’s independence bid “if you care genuinely about the 150,000 [Filipino workers there].”

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In December, then Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri urged President Marcos to expel Huang after China fired water cannons that month at Filipino fishermen near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

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TAGS: West Philippine Sea

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