Chinese Vessel Sprays Down Philippine Coast Guard With Water Cannon

Courtesy PCG

Published Aug 6, 2023 6:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The China Coast Guard has once again attemped to head off and intimidate a Philippine supply convoy using forceful methods, according to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). This time, a Chinese vessel cut across the bow of a PCG patrol ship and hosed it down with water cannons in an attempt to drive it off. 

On August 5, a routine supply convoy attempted to reach the Philippine Navy garrison at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). The Philippines maintains a base on a wrecked World War II-era landing ship at this contested reef, the LST BRP Sierra Madre. The regular supply voyages to this outpost have been a flashpoint for confrontation between the Philippines and China for years. 

Saturday's convoy was carrying food, water, fuel and other goods for the garrison, and it included two PCG vessels escorting two chartered boats carrying the supplies. The China Coast Guard confronted the PCG vessels as they approached. In photos provided by the Philippine Coast Guard, a large CCG cutter crossed in front of the bow of an unnamed Philippine Coast Guard vessel and deployed its water cannons. The photos appear to identify the Chinese vessel as CCG 4203 - the same vessel that maneuvered aggressively to cut off the Philippine cutter Malabrico in the same area last month. 

Courtesy PCG

One of the two chartered boats was prevented from offloading its supplies at the BRP Sierra Madre, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

"The PCG calls on the China Coast Guard to restrain its forces, respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, refrain from hampering freedom of navigation, and take appropriate actions against the individuals involved in this unlawful incident,” said PCG spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela. 

The China Coast Guard provided a different view of the encounter. In a statement, a CCG spokesman said that the four-vessel Philippine convoy "illegally broke into the waters . . . in China's Nansha [Spratly] Islands," reiterating longstanding Chinese claims that the Spratly Islands belong to China.

The China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia have a longstanding reputation for interfering with Philippine interests in the Spratly Islands, where China has established a string of military bases on contested land features. For years, Philippine fishermen have complained of Chinese forces harassing them or driving them away from desirable fishing grounds, like Scarborough Shoal. The Philippine Coast Guard has also reported run-ins with larger China Coast Guard vessels on dozens of occasions, including other incidents involving the use of water cannons, laser illumination and close quarters maneuvering. 

The Spratly Islands are within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but the area is claimed by China under its sweeping "nine-dash line" policy, which lays claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled in the Philippines' favor and dismissed China's excessive maritime claims as contrary to international law; China has never recognized the validity of the court's ruling and has proceeded as though it never occurred.