Clash between Chinese and Philippines vessel damages boat in South China Sea

The Philippines has accused the Chinese coastguard of engaging in “reckless and illegal actions” in the contested South China Sea after a collision between two vessels resulted in “minor structural damage” to their ship.

Jay Tarriela, the Philippine coast guard spokesperson, wrote on X that its vessels had “faced dangerous manoeuvres and blocking” from the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia.

This comes as the Southeast Asian leaders convened at a summit in Australia, where concerns about Beijing’s maritime aggression were expected to be a major concern among the leaders.

Video shared by the Philippines captured the moment its crew hurried to insert a buffer between the colliding coast guard ships, while their Chinese counterparts were observed recording the incident.

It was unclear where the collision took place.

But the Philippine military had earlier stated that it was on a mission delivering supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era vessel now serving as a base for a small unit of Philippine soldiers.

Second Thomas Shoal, under Philippine control, was the scene of numerous tense encounters last year between Chinese and Philippine coast guard ships, along with their accompanying vessels.

“Throughout the operation, the Philippine coast guard vessels faced dangerous manoeuvres and blocking from Chinese coast guard vessels and Chinese maritime militia,” Mr Tarriela said.

“Their reckless and illegal actions led to a collision.”

Philippine military spokesperson Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad stated that Philippine coast guard vessels were escorting navy personnel on two civilian supply boats when one was struck by a blast from a water cannon by the Chinese. He added that it was not immediately clear whether any crew members were injured or if the boat sustained damage.

A Chinese coast guard spokesperson said a Philippine ship deliberately rammed a Chinese coast guard vessel, causing a minor scratch.

The spokesperson said that the Chinese coast guard had taken measures against Philippine vessels that “illegally intruded” into waters near the Second Thomas Shoal. It said that the Philippines has “deliberately stirred up trouble” with China and “maliciously stirred up propaganda and continued to undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea”.

Meanwhile, just ahead of Wednesday’s summit in Australia, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr said that his administration “will do whatever it takes” to manage any threat to his country’s territory but stressed that Manila would continue “to tread the path of dialogue and diplomacy” in resolving disputes with China.

Despite a 2015 verdict from an international tribunal in The Hague declaring it baseless, China maintains nearly complete sovereignty claims over the South China Sea, which is a critical global maritime corridor and sees annual trade worth trillions of dollars. It is also home to significant oil and natural gas reserves and abundant fish stocks.

Additional reporting with agencies