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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Philippines Accuses China of Damaging its Vessels in Sea Dispute

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

April 30, 2024

© MasterSergeant / Adobe Stock

© MasterSergeant / Adobe Stock

The Philippines on Tuesday accused China's coast guard of harassment and of damaging two of its boats in a disputed area of the South China Sea, rejecting Beijing's position that it had expelled those vessels from the hotly contested shoal.

The Philippines' task force on South China Sea issues said a coast guard ship and a fisheries vessel were damaged by water cannons used by Chinese coast guard ships, as the vessels headed to Scarborough shoal to assist Filipino fishermen in the area.

The fisheries vessel was rammed thrice both by the Chinese coast guard and maritime vessels, the task force said.

No country has sovereignty over the strategically located Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing patch close to major shipping lanes that is used by several countries. The shoal falls inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

"These latest demonstrations of China's illegal and irresponsible behaviour highlight their egregious disregard for the Philippines' lawful exercise of its rights and entitlements in our own EEZ," the task force said in a statement.

China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

An international tribunal in 2016 said China's expansive claim had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.

The Philippines said China's actions raised the question of how sincere it was in efforts to reduce tensions in the waterway.

The Philippine coast guard said the Philippine vessels stood their ground at the shoal.

"This damage serves as evidence of the forceful water pressure used by the China coast guard in their harassment of the Philippine vessels," Philippine coast guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela said in a statement.

China has occupied the atoll for more than a decade. Waters around its lagoon, which has long been a sanctuary for vessels during storms, have been the site of multiple confrontations in recent years.

China's coast guard said the vessels had been expelled but did not provide details of the incident.

"China urges the Philippine side to immediately stop its provocative acts of infringement and do not challenge China's firm determination to safeguard its sovereignty," Lin Jian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said at a news briefing.

The Philippines' Tarriela said its vessel, the BRP Bagacay, suffered damage to its railing and canopy, and that China had installed a floating barrier at the shoal's entrance to restrict access.

The Philippine task force said the fisheries vessel sustained damage to its navigation, electrical, ventilation and radio systems.

China and the Philippines have traded accusations of illegal conduct at the Scarborough Shoal and Manila recently summoned a Chinese diplomat to explain aggressive manoeuvres. China typically accuses the Philippines of encroaching on its territory.

The two countries previously said they would seek better communication over skirmishes in the South China Sea, but tensions have increased recently, as the Philippines forges stronger diplomatic and military ties with the United States.

(Reuters - Reporting by Beijing newsroom and Mikhail Flores and Neil Jerome Morales; Writing by Bernard Orr and Mikhail Flores; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Michael Perry, Martin Petty and Bernadette Baum)