Swarm of Chinese Vessels Tries - And Fails - to Block Philippine Convoy

Illustration courtesy PCG

Published Sep 10, 2023 8:12 PM by Paul Benecki

The Philipping Coast Guard has completed a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal despite determined opposition from Chinese forces. 

On Friday, the PCG deployed two 150-foot cutters to escort small resupply boats to support the Philippine garrison at the shoal. The Philippine military maintains an outpost aboard the wreck of the BRP Sierra Madre, a WWII-era landing ship that was run aground on the reef in order to create a base in 1999. The deteriorating ship needs regular supply runs, including the delivery of materials for repairs. 

China - which contests Manila's claims in the Spratly Islands - maintains a flotilla of China Coast Guard and maritime militia forces near the reef, and the resupply runs are a regular source of friction. On Friday, the opposing force included four China Coast Guard cutters and four Chinese maritime militia trawlers. As during past runs, the CCG vessels intercepted the approaching PCG vessels, maneuvering aggressively to block their passage or intimidate the crews. In one case, a CCG cutter came within yards of ramming a PCG vessel. 

This time, the CCG's methods did not feature the use of water cannons, and the supply vessels made it through unharmed. The Chinese task force also sustained a minor casualty when a China Coast Guard launch got entangled with a line from a fishing vessel, AFP spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said Saturday. “It’s about the karma that they experienced when they tried to shadow our resupply vessel,” he said at a press conference in Quezon City.

Though successful, the mission was unacceptably hazardous because of Chinese forces' maneuvering, according to the PCG. "The routine [rotation and replenishment] mission was again subjected to dangerous maneuvers . . . jeopardizing the crew members' safety aboard the PCG vessels and Philippine resupply boats," said PCG spokesman Jay Tarriela. "Despite the challenging circumstances brought about by the illegal presence and activities of the CCG and CMM in our exclusive economic zone, the mission was carried out successfully."

Tarriella called for China's gray-zone maritime operations to cease in the Philippines' EEZ. "Doing so can foster a stable, secure, and rules-based maritime order conducive to regional cooperation and peace," he said.