68106
Views

China Blockades Second Thomas Shoal, Cutting Off Supply Convoy

A China Coast Guard vessel cuts across the bow of a Philippine Coast Guard cutter, risking collision, while a second CCG cutter waits in the background (center left) (PCG / Sen. Migz Zubiri)
A China Coast Guard vessel cuts across the bow of a Philippine Coast Guard cutter, risking collision, while a second CCG cutter waits in the background (center left) (PCG / Sen. Migz Zubiri)

Published Oct 4, 2023 3:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

Once again, the China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia have blockaded and harassed a Philippine supply convoy at Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippine Navy maintains a small outpost to defend Manila's maritime claims. This time, the resupply mission occurred against the backdrop of a large-scale naval drill involving U.S. and Philippine forces based out of Manila.

Video taken by the Philippine Coast Guard and shared by Philippine Senate President Migz Zubiri shows a flotilla of Chinese vessels maneuvering to block the passage of the convoy. One small China Coast Guard patrol vessel cut directly across the bow of a Philippine cutter from the PCG vessel's port side - an apparent violation of the international Rules of the Road (COLREGS), which state that the vessel to port is the give-way vessel in an ordinary crossing situation. The PCG cutter was forced to put propulsion astern in order to avoid a collision. 

Satellite-based vessel tracking provided by Ray Powell of maritime transparency initiative SeaLight suggests that at least 12 maritime militia fishing vessels were present during the standoff, accompanied by at least three nearby China Coast Guard cutters. In addition to the CCG maneuvering captured on video above, one maritime militia trawler appears to have made a close pass in front of the PCG cutter BRP Cabra, and another came within meters of BRP Sindagan, though this was not possible to immediately confirm with visual evidence. 

The tracking suggests that the Philippine Coast Guard was able to approach Second Thomas Shoal no closer than 16 kilometers because of the Chinese blockade. However, the Philippine government later issued a statement claiming that two supply boats had managed to make it through the Chinese blockade and reached the military outpost on the reef.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy is engaged in a nearby multilateral exercise with the U.S., Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and Australia. Four of these nations have dispatched vessels to join the drills at sea. According to U.S. 7th Fleet, the participating vessels include the dry cargo ship USNS Wally Schirra, destroyer USS Dewey, the Philippine Navy's BRP Antonio Luna, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force’s JS Akebono and the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Vancouver.