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China fires water cannon on Philippines humanitarian ships

Ghio Ong - The Philippine Star
China fires water cannon on Philippines humanitarian ships
Image shows multiple China Coast Guard vessels firing water cannons at two Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ships bound for a resupply mission/
December 12, 2023 Video grab from News 5

MANILA, Philippines — Chinese vessels have once again harassed Filipino boats and ships on a humanitarian mission at Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, in the West Philippine Sea.

“China Coast Guard (CCG) ships utilized water cannons to obstruct and prevent BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) vessels from approaching the Filipino fishing vessels eagerly awaiting the oil subsidy and grocery packs,” according to a statement from the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS).

The task force referred to three BFAR vessels – Datu Sanday, Datu Bankaw and Datu Tamblot – on a “regular humanitarian and support mission of providing oil subsidy and grocery packs to over 30 Filipino fishing vessels near Bajo de Masinloc in the West Philippine Sea” yesterday.

The BFAR ships approached “1.4 to 1.9 nautical miles” from Bajo de Masinloc when the CCG fired their water cannons, which were used “at least eight times,” according to the NTF-WPS.

The impact of the water cannons used by the CCG caused “significant damage” to Datu Tamblot’s communication and navigation equipment after it was “directly and deliberately targeted.”

Aside from the CCG vessels, the NTF-WPS said those from the Chinese maritime militia “engaged in dangerous maneuvers and deployed what is understood to be a long-range acoustic device against the BFAR vessels, causing severe temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew.”

Chinese maritime authorities also sent rigid hull inflatable boats “to disperse and drive away Filipino fishing vessels eagerly awaiting the distribution of fuel subsidy and food supplies from the BFAR ships,” the task force added.

The Filipino fishermen present at Bajo de Masinloc also filmed a “small boat” from the CCG that “illegally install(ed) a floating barrier at the southeast entrance.”

In videos posted on X by Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriela, two CCG patrol vessels fired water cannons directly at the boat believed to be Datu Tamblot. The water cannon was dismounted later on, but it continued spewing water.

The NTF-WPS asserted Bajo de Masinloc is “a high-tide feature with territorial sea per the 2016 arbitral award” and “forms an integral part of the Philippine national territory under the Constitution.”

According to the 2016 ruling, the Philippines also declared “Filipinos have traditional fishing rights in the waters of Bajo de Masinloc protected by international law.”

“China’s illegal exercise of maritime law enforcement powers, interference with Philippine vessels, harassment and intimidation of Filipino fisherfolk or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of international law, particularly UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the Arbitral Award,” the NTF-WPS maintained.

Panatag Shoal is located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Beijing seized it in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China’s claims have no legal basis.

The task force warned CCG and Chinese maritime militia vessels to “leave Bajo de Masinloc immediately” and at the same time “demand(ed) that the Chinese government take immediate action to halt these aggressive activities and uphold the principles of international law, and desist from actions that would infringe on Philippine sovereignty and endanger the lives and livelihood of Filipino fishermen who have traditionally fished in the area.”

China said earlier that it took “control measures” yesterday against three Philippine fishing vessels in the South China Sea that had intruded into waters near Panatag Shoal, state media reported.

Ally support

Posting on X (formerly Twitter), United States Ambassador MaryKay Carlson said, “We condemn PRC (People’s Republic of China)’s aggressive, illegal actions against BFAR vessels lawfully operating in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”

She added that China’s aggressive action in Philippine waters “violates international law and endangers lives and livelihoods.”

“We stand with our Philippine friends, partner, allies, in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Carlson added.

For his part, Japanese Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko expressed “serious concern about the dangerous actions by CCG vessels against Philippine vessels, which endanger lives and livelihoods and pose a threat to the peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

“We reiterate the importance of upholding international law, particularly UNCLOS, and 2016 Arbitral Award,” Kazuhiko posted on X, referring not only to the international law of the sea, but the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that affirmed Philippines’ sovereign waters and invalidated China’s nine-dash line.

European Union Ambassador Luc Véron also reiterated the EU’s support to the Philippines, adding that the UNCLOS laid down “dispute settlement mechanisms (that) contribute to maintaining and advancing the rule of law.”

“The 2016 UNCLOS Tribunal Award is legally binding and useful for peacefully resolving disputes. Water cannons aren’t!” Véron posted on X.

In a separate statement, Sen. Francis Tolentino said he “strongly condemns China’s use of water cannons against civilian research vessels near Bajo de Masinloc within the Philippines’ EEZ, undermining peace and stability in the region.”

Tolentino appealed for China to stop its harassment of Filipino vessels in the spirit of Christmas, especially with a civilian convoy on its way to the general vicinity of Ayungin Shoal to bring Christmas food packs.

“As a flotilla of civilian Filipino vessels prepare to deliver Christmas gifts within the Philippine EEZ, we hope the international community will remain united against harassment, and that the festive spirit of generosity and goodwill will not be overshadowed by the forces of intimidation,” he said.

“The Chinese Coast Guard should not spoil our Christmas with unwarranted aggression,” Tolentino added. – Marc Jayson Cayabyab

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