Chinese vessel blocks, aims laser at Philippine Coast Guard near Ayungin Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 13) – The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) moved dangerously close then illuminated a green light towards a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel near Ayungin Shoal, causing temporary blindness to its crew members, the PCG reported Monday.

“The PCG condemns any actions that harm and jeopardize the safety of everyone regardless of nationality,” PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu said of the Feb. 6 incident encountered by the Philippine vessel BRP Malapascua.

The PCG statement said CCG ship with bow No. 5205 reached around 18 kilometers (10 nautical miles) off Ayungin Shoal past 6 p.m. that day.

“The Chinese ship crossed the bow of the PCG ship at a distance of 7.4 km (4 nautical miles), as if to warn BRP Malapascua to stop or alter course,” it added.

The PCG said it was followed by “dangerous maneuvers,” with CCG 5205 a close distance of about 150 yards from the starboard quarter of the Philippine vessel before the Chinese ship shone its laser.

BRP Malapascua, which was en route to deliver food and supplies to troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal, had to alter its course and head toward Lawak Island to continue its maritime patrol, the Coast Guard added.

"The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel on board the BRP SIERRA MADRE is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea," it added.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ Balitaan, PCG Adviser of the Commandant for Maritime Commodore Jay Tarriela said whenever the Armed Forces of the Philippines replenish their supply, CCG won’t let PCG or any government ships escorting them to go near Ayungin Shoal.

In December 2022, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported that a CCG vessel challenged and shadowed a Philippine supply boat as it delivered supplies to troops deployed in Ayungin Shoal.

Two months later, PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo confirmed that a CCG vesse monitored and tailed a Philippine Navy warship anew near Mischief Reef – a low-tide elevation located in the Spratly Islands.

But PCG retracted its statement two days after, saying the incident report that came from American defense and security expert Ray Powell was “unverified.”

READ: AFP: Chinese vessel tails PH supply boat to Ayungin Shoal

READ: PH navy warship monitored, tailed by 4 Chinese vessels — PCG.

Meanwhile, maritime expert Jay Batongbacal criticized China, saying lasers are classified as "direct energy weapons which have the potential to cause disproportionate human injury or suffering."

"An act of aggression?" he said. "China begins crossing the line between the gray zone and black & white in asserting its excessive maritime claims. Ayungin Shoal is a submerged feature, part of the continental shelf and EEZ that pertains to the Philippines, and can never be a valid subject to China's claim of sovereignty."

Following the incident, Senator Risa Hontiveros called upon Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs to impose concrete actions against the escalating China’s harassment in West Philippine Sea.

“Her shameless harassment, causing temporary blindness to Filipino crew members, should warrant a penalty,” she said. “We need to establish an updated security framework with our partners in the region as soon as possible.”

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines in its case against China. The five-member arbitral tribunal invalidated Beijing’s claims over virtually the entire South China Sea and recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

For almost seven years, China has continuously disregarded the ruling and Chinese vessels can be seen regularly in the disputed waters despite a number of diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines.