A top Philippine defense official told The Associated Press that there were no injuries among the Filipino crew members and that an assessment of damage to both ships was ongoing.
The official said the two incidents near Thomas Shoal, the second of China’s repeated attempts to isolate a Philippine offshore outpost, could have been worse if the ships had not been able to speed away from Chinese vessels. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
China’s sprawling territorial claims in the South China Sea, including islands off the coast of the Philippines, have raised tensions and brought the Philippines’ longtime treaty ally, the United States, into the fray.
He used the initials of China’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China, and the Philippines’ name for the second Thomas Shoal. He added that Washington stands with its allies to defend Philippine sovereignty and support a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
The Chinese coast guard said the Philippine ships “trespassed” in Chinese waters “without authority” despite repeated radio warnings, prompting its ships to stop them. It accused Philippine ships of causing the collisions.
“The conduct of the Philippine side seriously violates international rules for avoiding conflicts at sea and threatens the navigational safety of our ships,” the Chinese coast guard said in a statement posted on its website.
Chinese officials said they would stop Philippine ships carrying “illegal construction” materials.
A Philippine government task force dealing with the South China Sea said the clashes occurred when two Philippine supply boats escorted by two Philippine coast guard ships were on their way to deliver food and other supplies to a military outpost under Chinese blockade.
It said the actions of the Chinese ships were in “total disregard of the Charter of the United Nations, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” and international norms preventing maritime collisions.
Clashes were frequent as Philippine ships delivered supplies to the Philippine navy and to sailors stationed on the disputed shore. But this is the first time Philippine officials have reported that their ships have been attacked by Chinese vessels.
In the past, Chinese officials have played down Beijing’s claim that Chinese vessels enforcing its territorial claims are actually paramilitary vessels disguised as fishing boats.
Despite Chinese efforts, one of the two boats was able to maneuver and deliver supplies to a small crew stationed aboard the frigate PRP 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 seen as a critical point in a delicate fault line of US-China rivalry in the region.
In early August, a Chinese coast guard vessel used water cannon on one of two Philippine supply boats to prevent the second from approaching Thomas Shoal. This infuriated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila to summon the Chinese ambassador and issue a strongly worded protest.
Washington reacted by renewing its warning that it was obligated to protect the Philippines as a treaty ally.
China’s Foreign Ministry has accused Washington of “threatening China” by raising the prospect of implementing the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. Beijing has repeatedly warned the US not to intervene in regional conflicts.
“Their repetition and escalation is alarming and very worrying,” said Luc Veron, the European Union’s ambassador to Manila. The EU joins the Philippines in “calling for full compliance with international law in the South China Sea”.
2016 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea An arbitration award set up under the convention invalidated Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea on historical grounds. China, which refused to participate in the arbitration requested by the Philippines, rejected the decision and continues to defy it.
Associated Press writer Huizhong Wu in Bangkok contributed to this report.