Philippine Coast Guard says ship damaged in collision with Chinese vessel

MANILA – The Philippine Coast Guard said one of its ships was damaged Tuesday in a collision with a China Coast Guard vessel during a resupply mission to Filipino troops on a remote outpost in the South China Sea.

It is the latest incident in waters around Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands where the countries have contesting maritime claims.  

Chinese coast guard and other vessels undertook “dangerous manoeuvres and blocking”, leading to a collision that resulted in “minor structural damage to the PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) vessel,” Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a post on social media platform X.

The BRP Sindangan, along with a sister ship, had been deployed “to support” a military rotation and resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal, where Filipino troops are stationed on a grounded Philippine navy vessel.

China’s coast guard said it “took control measures” against Philippines ships’ “illegal intrusion” in waters around Ren’ai Reef in China’s Nansha Islands,” using the Chinese names for the shoal and Spratly Islands.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from a host of Southeast Asian nations and an international ruling that has declared its stance baseless.

The incident comes a day after Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo called on China to “stop harassing us” as he defended Manila’s strategy of publicising Chinese manoeuvres in the South China Sea.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was similarly forthright when he appeared later Monday evening at an event hosted by an Australian think tank.

“We shall never surrender even a square inch of our territory and our maritime jurisdiction,” he said on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Melbourne.

The collision was the second such incident since December, when Chinese ships blasted water cannon at Philippine boats. 

Those confrontations were the most intense between Philippine and Chinese vessels in years. 

Beijing is trying to “break our resolve, basically warn us that this will lead to further escalation,” political science professor Renato de Castro of Manila’s De Salle University told AFP on Tuesday.

Relations between Manila and Beijing have frayed under Marcos, who has sought to improve ties with traditional ally Washington and deepen defence cooperation in the region, while also pushing back against Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

That contrasts with the approach of former president Rodrigo Duterte, who set aside maritime disputes with Beijing in exchange for promises of Chinese investment.

Political analyst Richard Heydarian said the Chinese actions also ran the risk that “it will further drive anti-China sentiment in the Philippines and encourage the Marcos administration to double down on its alliance with the West and traditional partners”.

“Of course it could eventually… (lead) to a horrible accident or an extremely violent incident that could really escalate out of control in ways that is not only detrimental to the Philippines but also to the supposedly stronger party,” he told AFP. –AFP