A senior Philippine security official told The Associated Press that there were no casualties among the Filipino crew members, and the damage to the two ships was being assessed.
The two incidents near Second Thomas Shoal, where China has repeatedly tried to isolate a Philippine naval outpost, could have been worse if the ships had not been able to quickly maneuver away from the Chinese vessels, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the lack of authority to discuss the matter publicly.
China’s extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea, including on islands offshore the Philippines, have raised tensions and drawn the United States, a long-time ally of the Philippines, into the dispute.
It used the initials of China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China, and the name used by the Philippines for Second Thomas Shoal. She added that Washington stands with its allies to help protect Philippine sovereignty and support a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
The Chinese Coast Guard said the Philippine ships had “transcended” what it said were Chinese waters “without authorization” despite repeated radio warnings, prompting its ships to stop them. It blamed Philippine ships for causing the collisions.
“The behavior of the Philippine side seriously violates international rules on avoiding collisions at sea and threatens the navigation safety of our ships,” the Chinese Coast Guard said in a statement posted on its website.
Chinese authorities said they were stopping Philippine ships carrying “illegal construction” materials.
A Philippine government task force dealing with the South China Sea said the collisions occurred as two Philippine supply boats, accompanied by two Philippine Coast Guard ships, were heading to deliver food and other supplies to the military site under a Chinese blockade.
It added that the Chinese ships’ actions were “in blatant disregard for the UN Charter, UNCLOS” and international regulations aimed at preventing maritime collisions.
Close collisions have occurred frequently when Philippine ships deliver supplies to Philippine Marines and sailors stationed in disputed shoals. But this was the first time that Philippine officials announced that their ships had been hit by Chinese ships.
In the past, Chinese officials have downplayed allegations that Chinese ships enforcing Beijing’s territorial claims were actually paramilitary vessels disguised as fishing boats.
Despite Chinese efforts, one of the two boats was able to maneuver and deliver supplies to the small unit stationed aboard the stranded warship, BRP Sierra Madre, the task force said.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest trade routes. The disputes involve China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, and are a flashpoint in a delicate fault line in the US-China rivalry in the region.
In early August, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel used a water cannon against one of two Philippine supply boats to prevent it from approaching Second Thomas Shoal. This angered President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and prompted the Foreign Ministry in Manila to summon the Chinese ambassador to lodge a strong protest.
Washington responded by renewing its warning that it was obligated to defend the Philippines as a treaty ally.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused Washington of “threatening China” by raising the possibility of activating the US-Philippines mutual defense treaty. Beijing has repeatedly warned the United States against interfering in regional territorial disputes.
The European Union’s ambassador to Manila, Luc Veron, said that the events “and their repetition and intensification are dangerous and very disturbing.” He added that the European Union joins the Philippines “in its call for full respect for international law in the South China Sea.”
A 2016 arbitration ruling under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea invalidated Beijing’s claims on historical grounds to almost the entire South China Sea. China has refused to participate in the arbitration requested by the Philippines, has rejected the award and continues to challenge it.
Associated Press writer Huizhong Wu in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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