Philippines says Chinese coast guard assaulted its vessels with water cannons for a second day

The Chinese coast guard assaulted three Philippine vessels with water cannon blasts Sunday and rammed one of them, causing serious engine damage off a disputed shoal in the South China Sea just a day after similar hostilities at another shoal, the Philippine coast guard said.

The latest confrontation happened near Second Thomas Shoal as two Philippine navy-operated supply boats and Philippine coast guard escort ships were en route to deliver food and other supplies to Filipino forces in a long-marooned navy ship that serves as a territorial outpost, said a coast guard spokesman, Commodore Jay Tarriela.

No other details were provided. Drone video footage and photographs issued by the Philippine coast guard show two Chinese coast guard ships separately blasting water cannons at close range at a Philippine coast guard patrol ship, BRP Cabra, and a smaller supply boat.

The Chinese coast guard said it had “implemented controls in accordance with laws and regulations” on Sunday against two Philippine coast guard vessels, including one official ship and one supply ship that were attempting to transport construction materials to the Second Thomas Shoal.

The statement gave no details about the measures taken, but said the Philippines action “seriously infringed on China’s sovereignty.”

It also claimed a Philippine vessel ignored warnings and in violation of international navigation regulations made a sharp turn in an “unprofessional and dangerous manner” and intentionally collided with a Chinese coast guard ship, causing “scratching.”

“The responsibility lies entirely with the Philippine side,” the coast guard said.

China’s ships, which have surrounded the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal for years, have blocked Philippine coast guard and supply boats in a years-long effort to take control of the hotly disputed atoll claimed by both nations.

The hostilities, which have been particularly heated this year, have stoked fears of an armed conflict that could involve the United States, which has vowed to defend the Philippines, its treaty ally, if Filipino forces come under armed attack.

In Saturday’s confrontation, the Chinese coast guard and accompanying ships also trained water cannons at three Philippine fisheries vessels to prevent them from approaching Scarborough Shoal in the disputed waters off the northwestern Philippines.

That assault caused “significant damage” to the communication and navigation equipment of one of the three Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessels, officials said. It was condemned by the Philippines, the United States and Japan.

Philippine officials added that in addition to the use of water cannons Saturday, suspected militia vessels accompanying Chinese coast guard ships used a long-range acoustic device that could impair hearing, causing “severe temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew.”

“We demand 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,” a Philippine government task force that deals with the territorial disputes said Saturday.

The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, MaryKay Carlson, condemned China’s “aggressive, illegal actions” in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“This (Chinese) behavior violates international law and endangers lives and livelihood,” Carlson said. “We stand with our Philippine friends, partners, allies in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

In other high seas clashes this year, Chinese coast guard ships used a military-grade laser that caused Filipino crewmen temporary blindness and engaged in dangerous blocking and shadowing maneuvers that caused minor collisions, Philippines officials say.

More tensions loom.

A flotilla of 40 civilian fishing boats, backed by Philippine coast guard escort ships, was enroute Sunday to Second Thomas Shoal and two other Philippine-occupied areas to deliver Christmas food packs and other donated supplies to Filipino forces.