Philippines Says China Coast Guard Blasted Water Cannon at Boat in Disputed Sea

(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines on Saturday said a Filipino civilian boat was severely damaged and some of its crew members were injured when two China Coast Guard ships fired water cannons at it, in the latest confrontation between the two nations in the disputed South China Sea.

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Chinese ships “deliberately” targeted Unaizah May 4, which was on its way to resupply Filipino troops stationed at an outpost in the Second Thomas Shoal, the Philippine military said in a statement that contained videos of the incident.

Two Philippine Coast Guard vessels evaded Chinese boats’ blocking attempts and provided assistance to the “disabled” supply boat and her crew, Manila’s task force on the disputed sea said in a statement, which did not detail the extent of the damage to the Unaizah May 4. The injured crew members received medical attention aboard a Philippine Coast Guard ship, it said.

The supply vessel could not continue its course due to “direct blasting” of water cannons, while the Chinese Maritime Militia installed floating barriers to prevent boats from entering the shoal, the Philippine military said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Six Philippine navy personnel and essential cargoes were transferred from the supply boat and an accompanying Philippine Coast Guard vessel to the outpost using inflatable crafts, according to a separate post. Manila’s task force declared the mission accomplished.

The Philippines said Unaizah May 4 was on a mission to resupply and rotate troops on BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era ship that Manila deliberately grounded in 1999 to serve as its military outpost in the Second Thomas Shoal.

Earlier this month, two China Coast Guard vessels fired water cannons at the Philippine boat, shattering its windshield, injuring four crew members and forcing it to back off.

In the latest mission, the Philippine military also reported blocking and “dangerous” maneuvers by the China Coast Guard against the supply vessel prior to the water cannon incident.

“The systematic and consistent manner in which the PRC continues to carry out these illegal and irresponsible actions belies its hollow claims to peace, dialogue, and adherence to international law,” Manila’s task force said, using the initials of China’s formal name.

Manila’s efforts to maintain the BRP Sierra Madre have been opposed by China, which claims disputed areas of the South China Sea are its territory.

China Coast Guard spokesperson Gan Yu said in a statement that the Philippine resupply vessel was attempting to transport construction materials and tried to forcefully intrude into the adjacent waters of Ren’ai Jiao, Beijing’s name for Second Thomas Shoal. The China Coast Guard acted in “a reasonable and professional manner,” the spokesperson said.

“We warn the Philippines that playing with fire is an invitation of disgrace, and the China Coast Guard is ready at all times to defend the country’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” the spokesperson said.

The ambassadors of US, Japan and the EU in Manila, in separate posts on X, expressed support for the Philippines.

The mission’s aim was to rotate troops aboard BRP Sierra Madre after one of the personnel needed serious medical attention and was evacuated, the Philippine military said earlier. “Personnel are being rotated in to ensure that BRP Sierra Madre’s mission posture remains uncompromised,” it said.

--With assistance from Jacob Gu.

(Updates with Philippines and China officials’ comments from fourth paragraph.)

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