Philippine ship defies China's Ayungin blockade

Posted at 03/29/14 3:46 PM

MANILA (4TH UPDATE) -- A civilian ship transporting food and supplies to the Ayungin Shoal was blocked by two Chinese Coast Guard vessels and told to leave the area on Saturday afternoon.

The ship was supposed to bring food to soldiers stationed at the Ayungin Shoal, internationally known as Second Thomas Shoal.

ABS-CBN News reporter Chiara Zambrano, who was on board the vessel along with other members of the media, reported that they first spotted the two big white ships of the Chinese Coast Guard at around 1 p.m.

One of the vessels immediately pulled up about 200 yards ahead of the civilian ship and blocked its way.

Zambrano reported that the Chinese Coast Guard then asked the people on board the Philippine vessel what they were doing in the area and told them to go away. They also repeatedly honked their horns, she said.

The Chinese claimed that the civilian ship was encroaching into Chinese territory.

In response, members of the Philippine Navy who were on board the ship said they were just going to resupply their troops stationed at the Ayungin Shoal.

"They (Chinese Coast Guard) said that we need to leave because we are doing an illegal act, and this part of the ocean that we are in is actually part of sovereign Chinese territory," Zambrano said.

The Philippine Navy, however, stood firm and refused to change its course, at which point one of the Chinese vessels again tried to block its way. This time, the Chinese vessel was reportedly only about 50 yards away from the Philippine civilian ship.

Still, the Philippine vessel pushed through until it reached shallow waters where the Chinese ships were not able to follow.

The civilian vessel eventually reached the BRP Sierra Madre, the ship that has been grounded at the Ayungin Shoal where Philippine soldiers are staying, at around 3 p.m., the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said.

Act of harassment

According to the Philippine Navy, what the Chinese Coast Guard did was a sign of aggression and hostility, and thus could be categorized as harassment.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also condemned the incident, saying it was an act of harassment.

It called on China to stop taking actions that pose threat to the security of the Philippines.

"We reiterate that Ayungin Shoal is part of [Philippines'] continental shelf and has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over it. We demand that China cease taking actions that [are] a threat to our security," the DFA said in a statement.

The Saturday incident is the second time that a Philippine vessel was blocked by Chinese vessels in the disputed shoal.

Last March 9, Chinese Coast Guard ships also drove away two Filipino-flagged vessels headed for the shoal, which is located 108 nautical miles from Palawan and only 13 nautical miles southeast of Mischief Reef, where China has already erected military structures.

The vessels were bringing supplies to Filipino marines aboard a decrepit navy ship that beached on the shoal in 1999.

The Philippines has also accused China of firing a water cannon at Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal, another South China Sea outcrop.

The Philippines is set to pursue a case in the United Nations challenging Beijing's claim to most of the South China Sea.

Manila is to file as scheduled its "memorial", or formal pleading on Sunday, which would allow the UN arbitral tribunal to study the Philippine argument that the Chinese claim covers parts of Filipino territory.

China claims most of the strategically important body of water as well as islets and reefs which border major sea lanes and are reputed to sit on vast oil and gas reserves.

The Philippines, whose forces are dwarfed by its giant neighbor in an increasingly tense stand-off over some reefs and shoals, sought UN arbitration in January 2012 to settle the dispute, but China has rejected the move.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei has warned the Philippines against proceeding with the UN case. -- Report from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News; With Agence France-Presse