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Sunday February 25, 2024

Philippines, China trade blame for collision in disputed waters

By AFP
December 11, 2023

MANILA: A Philippine boat and a Chinese Coast Guard ship collided near a hotly contested reef on Sunday, with both countries trading blame for the latest such confrontation in the disputed South China Sea.

The incident happened during a Philippine resupply mission to a tiny garrison on Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, which is a flashpoint for Manila and Beijing. It comes a day after the Philippines accused the Chinese coast guard of using water cannons to “obstruct” three government boats delivering provisions to Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal, off the main island of Luzon.

A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails near a Philippine vessel (R) that was part of a convoy of civilian boats in the disputed South China Sea on December 10, 2023. — AFP
A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails near a Philippine vessel (R) that was part of a convoy of civilian boats in the disputed South China Sea on December 10, 2023. — AFP 

Longstanding tensions between Manila and Beijing over the sea have flared in recent months following multiple incidents involving Philippine and Chinese vessels, including two previous collisions.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters and islands near the shores of its neighbours, and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.

It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarised to reinforce its claims. The Philippines said on Sunday that “China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia vessels harassed, blocked and executed dangerous manoeuvres on Philippine civilian supply vessels”.

One of two boats carrying provisions was “rammed” by a Chinese coast guard ship, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

A Chinese ship also used water cannon against the two supply boats and a Philippine Coast Guard vessel escorting the mission, the multi-agency task force said.

That caused “severe damage” to the engine of one of the supply boats and damaged the mast of the coast guard vessel, it said.

The China Coast Guard, however, accused the Philippine boat of “deliberately colliding” with the Chinese vessel after “disregarding our multiple stern warnings”.

The Philippine boat “changed direction suddenly in an unprofessional, dangerous manner, deliberately colliding with our Coast Guard Vessel 21556, which was on a normal law enforcement route, and caused a scrape”, the China Coast Guard said in a statement.