During Wednesday’s (October 4) supply mission, a Chinese Navy warship came “the closest ever” to a PCG vessel escorting the supply boats.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Aba (630) trailed the Sindangan (MRRV-4407), one of two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships escorting Filipino vessels delivering essential supplies to a remote garrison at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Although it did not actively engage in harassing the supply boats and PCG vessels, however, Chinese coast guard and militia vessels persistently surrounded the PCG vessels as they approached Ayungin, compelling the PCG ships to halt to avoid collisions.
Captain Dennis Rem Labay, commander of the PCG District Palawan, expressed astonishment as he observed the Chinese Navy’s proximity from the bridge of the BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409), the other escort ship.
Commander Emmanuel Dangate, the patrol ship’s skipper, voiced concerns about the warship’s presence, emphasizing its unnerving proximity.
Former Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., currently serving as the Philippine ambassador to the United Kingdom and special envoy to China, was present on the bridge deck, attentively monitoring the actions of both the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels.
This marked the first instance of a high-ranking Philippine diplomat joining a supply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era US warship deliberately grounded on Ayungin to serve as a strategic outpost in the West Philippine Sea.
Locsin’s presence during this mission holds significance, as he was appointed as a special envoy for “special concerns” to Beijing shortly after a Chinese coast guard ship fired a water cannon at one of the Filipino supply boats en route to Ayungin.
The close encounters prompted strong condemnation from the PCG, citing violations of international law, particularly the collision regulations. Despite the tensions, the supply boats, Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah May 2, successfully reached the Sierra Madre and unloaded fresh provisions.
On Thursday, October 5, China once again expressed its dissatisfaction with the Philippines’ ongoing resupply mission to the soldiers stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, the grounded warship in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
Chinese Coast Guard Spokesperson Gan Yu released a statement asserting that two supply vessels and two Philippine Coast Guard ships had entered what China referred to as “Ren’ai Reef,” the adjacent waters to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Gan emphasized, “The Chinese Coast Guard, in strict adherence to the law, issued a strong warning to the Philippine vessels, closely tracked and monitored their movements, and effectively regulated their actions.”
He further stated that China maintains indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, including Ren’ai Reef, and the surrounding waters. Consequently, China firmly opposes the Philippines’ alleged illegal transport of construction materials to the intentionally grounded warship.
Gan declared that the Chinese Coast Guard will persist in conducting law enforcement operations within the seas under China’s jurisdiction.
This assertion comes despite the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, which favored the Philippines and affirmed the country’s exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.