Philippine civilian convoy in disputed waters diverted

Philippine civilian convoy in disputed waters diverted

A CONVOY of civilian boats panning to deliver provisions to Filipino fishermen and troops in the South China Sea left the Philippines on Sunday but changed course after a confrontation between Philippine and Chinese vessels at Second Thomas Shoal at the weekend.

The vessels carrying more than 50 volunteers from the Atin Ito (It is Ours) coalition left El Nido, Palawan on Sunday morning and are expected to reach Lawak Island at 5 a.m. on Monday, volunteer Emman Hizon said by telephone on Sunday.

“Upon their arrival, they will start their donation drop-off as originally planned,” he said. “It will take them at least two three hours and after that, they will make their way back to El Nido.”

Fishermen in 40 wooden outrigger boats are expected to join the “Christmas convoy” led by volunteers on two larger ships carrying food, water and other donations.

The convoy originally planned to pass through Second Thomas Shoal before heading for Lawak Island. Mr. Hizon said the convoy would instead pass through the shoal on their way back to El Nido.

Chinese ships on Sunday fired water cannons at three Philippine vessels on a resupply mission to a military outpost at Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also accused China of ramming a smaller resupply boat, while China’s coast guard said the Philippine vessel had intentionally rammed its ship.

Two Philippine Navy-operated supply boats and Philippine coast guard escort ships were on their way to deliver food and other supplies to BRP Sierra Madre when Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels “harassed” them and “executed dangerous maneuvers” at close range, a national task force said in a statement.

Philippine Coast Guard vessels escorted the civilian convoy as it sailed through the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which China claims almost in its entirety.

The people in the convoy included fishermen, students and youth leaders.

Local security officials last month said they would protect the civilian convoy to Philippine-occupied features in the South China Sea, days after rejecting the plan amid worsening tensions with China.

The National Security Council (NSC) said it would allow the Christmas convoy to pass through Second Thomas Shoal, which has been a major source of tensions with China in recent months.

The group originally planned to hold a convoy to BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era vessel that the Philippines deliberately grounded at Second Thomas, locally called Ayungin, in 1999 to serve as an outpost for Filipino troops.

The NSC had opposed the plan, saying it could escalate tensions with China.

The council told the organizers to pass only near the reef, where Chinese vessels regularly patrol. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza