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12 Chinese vessels block PH resupply mission anew in Ayungin Shoal

TWO Chinese Coast Guard ships and 10 maritime militia vessels took part in Friday's blockade at Ayungin Shoal as the Philippines conducted its 3rd resupply mission in five weeks to its military outpost on BRP Sierra Madre.

This photo taken on August 22, 2023 shows Chinese coast guard ships (left and right) corralling a Philippine civilian boat chartered by the Philippine navy to deliver supplies to Philippine navy ship BRP Sierra Madre in the disputed South China Sea. A team of AFP journalists on board the BRP Cabra, one of the two Philippine Coast Guard escort boats, watched as one of the Chinese ships came within several meters of the vessel. AFP PHOTO

United States-based security expert Ray Powell said one Chinese cargo ship was also monitored in the area through an automatic identification system (AIS) for unclear purposes.

Powell, who heads Project Myoushu at Stanford University's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, said China's own AIS-tracking site showed two smaller militia ships (Qiong Qio Ghai Yu 11003 and 11004) helping block the entrance to Ayungin Shoal, in addition to 8 militia ships.

The Chinese cargo ship was identified as Chang Zheng 1 Hao.

The most recent information gathered from AIS data showed Philippine escort vessels BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan surrounded by the CCG vessels and at least 4 militia ships 18 kilometers from Ayungin Shoal.

“Both ships (Cabra and Sindangan) have since turned back to the east–escort mission possibly complete?” said Powell, a 2021 Fellow at Stanford's Distinguished Careers Institute.

He said previous resupply missions conducted by the Philippines encountered “dark” CCG ships, meaning the vessels were not broadcasting AIS.

“Unclear if dark ships present today, but the forward deployment of so many militia ships suggests fewer CCG than before,” said Powell.

He noted that China has blockaded the Philippines' outpost on BRP Sierra Madre for years to deny its ability to repair the ship “until it eventually breaks up and must be abandoned.” “At that point, China plans to take full control of 2nd Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal. The time bomb of the Philippines' BRP Sierra Madre is ticking down to zero,” said Powell.

“China's illegal blockade of the Philippines' naval outpost aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal is an outrage,” he added.

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