Philippine Coast Guard Vessels Damaged During Resupply Mission to Second Thomas Shoal

Resupply Mission

On March 5th, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) conducted a mission to resupply Philippine personnel stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era LST, at the Second Thomas Shoal (STS). The vessels that made up the convoy consisted of the PCG vessels, BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan, as well as the civilian resupply vessels, the Unaizah May (UM) 1 and 4.  Vessels from the Philippine Navy (PN) also accompanied the convoy in a supporting role.

However, pre-deployed Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels positioned themselves to intercept the convoy as it moved towards the shoal.

Chinese Coast Guard Vessels Ram and Damage Philippine Ships

At least one CCG vessel attempted to block the Singdangan but collided with the vessel at approximately 6:52 a.m. local time, according to a statement from the Philippine National Security Council. The vessel received “minor structural damage” due to the collision, but the Philippines decided to continue the mission. At least two CCG vessels also attempted to block the UM4 to prevent the vessel from reaching the BRP Sierra Madre.

Screenshot of moment when Chinese Coast Guard vessel colliding with Philippine Coast Guard vessel during resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal (Photo: X, formally, Twitter/Philippine Coast Guard, @jaytaryela)

The maneuvers resulted in one of the Chinese vessels colliding with the Philippine resupply vessel and causing minor damage. Two other CCG vessels also deployed water cannons against the UM4, with one cannon blast shattering one of the vessel’s windshield panes and injuring four PN personnel. The UM4 then returned to port in Palawan Province, with the Sindangan escorting the vessel while PCG personnel treated the injured PN personnel.

Philippine resupply vessel Unaizah May 1 delivering supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre (Photo: X, formally Twitter/@BRPSierraMadre)

However, the UM1 evaded blocking maneuvers by two other CCG vessels to dock and deliver supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre.

Analysis

The blocking and use of water cannon by the CCG vessels indicates that this would be part of new procedures for how China will react to STS resupply missions. However, these actions by the CCG have the potential to escalate tensions with the Philippines since they can lead to the vessels receiving serious damage or PCG or PN personnel becoming injured.

Both the shattered windshield and the four injured personnel occurring as a result of the water cannon blast from a CCG illustrate this concept. This incident is the first time that Philippine personnel have received injuries directly from the CCG’s use of water cannons. Furthermore, the incident could have resulted in a collision since the CCG vessel was “crossing the T” or moving parallel with the UM1 as it used its cannon. The blast could have resulted in significant damage to the bridge or injuries that incapacitated the controls or crew and prevented the ship from maneuvering away from the Chinese ship.

The sinking of the UM1 or UM4 could lead the Philippines to finally decide to use PN vessels to escort the civilian resupply ships or transfer the mission to the PN. Either action would lead to China responding by directly deploying the People’s Liberation Army Navy to block the vessels during future missions. This could increase the potential for an incident that would cause the United States and potentially other countries to intervene on the side of the Philippines.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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