From Sabina Shoal, another natural underwater feature near the military outpost BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, the captains and crew members of supply boats Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah Mae 2 and their Philippine Coast Guard escorts cautiously navigated the West Philippine Sea waters, acutely aware that China coast guard ships and militia vessels were following them.
Lt. Ramsey Gutierrez and Lieutenants Junior Grade Darwin Datwin and Richard Lonogan aboard the wooden-hulled boats were well-aware that being shadowed was not uncommon. China frequently employs this tactic as part of its incursion strategies to lay claim to the region.
What the trio from the Philippine Fleet didn’t anticipate on the morning of August 5, around 10 a.m., however, was that the Chinese vessels would intentionally try to ram their boats and launch an aggressive assault using water cannons, approximately two nautical miles from Ayungin.
This hostile move could have potentially capsized them if not for the skillful piloting of their captains who managed to evade the attacks, Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez, aboard the Unaizah Mae 2 (UM2), recounted that a China coast guard ship, supported by accompanying militia vessels, made two attempts to ram them. Despite the dangerous situation and the very real risks, they remained “composed” and maintained their course until they were targeted by water cannons.
“Due to the maneuverings of our captains, nakaligtas naman kami sa mga water ramming attempts nila,” he narrated on Thursday at a media conference at the Western Command in Puerto Princesa City.
“At that moment, composed pa rin naman kami. We were continuously coordinating with the higher headquarters kung anong magiging action namin and to safely navigate lang. Nagulat kami, pero kailangan naming i-overcome yon at ipagpatuloy yong misyon,” he said.
Datwin and Lonogan said that even with China’s confrontational actions putting their safety at risk, they all gathered courage on Unaizah Mae 1 (UM1) to deliver the monthly provisions of food, water, and other essentials to the troops on the stranded Philippine Navy vessel in Ayungin.
Datwin narrated that UM1 also experienced two ramming attempts from a Chinese coast guard ship and a militia vessel, but they persisted in their course, even though they felt anxious about the whole situation.
“Delikado talaga kasi yong bangka natin is made of wood. Anything na mangyari dyan na mabangga man yan, or matamaan man yan ng matindi, hindi natin alam kung makakabalik ba talaga yong bangka kung nasira na. Very endangering talaga yong ginawa nila. Yong pagka attempt nila is less than five yards lang sa amin sa starboard side,” Datwin stated.
“The feeling of being in danger is what you will feel, but sabi nga namin kailangang i-overcome yon,” Lonogan said.
Their safety aboard UM1 was only guaranteed when their boat captain skillfully navigated them around an imminent dangerous situation to reach Ayungin.
UM1 successfully reached BRP Sierra Madre and delivered half of the provisions to the troops. Meanwhile, those on UM2, which had been immobilized by the water cannons, became wet, especially the sacks of rice intended for the Ayungin soldiers’ monthly consumption.
“Yong UM2, yong hindi nakapasok, na box in talaga siya—na restrict na siya from maneuverability. There were two Chinese militia vessels sa kaliwa’t kanan, and then yong coast guard vessel nila, nasa likod naman. There was no choice for the boat to sail away and [pursue] kung ano yong intended track niya,” Gutierrez said.
The Chinese vessels stopped harassing them around 2 p.m. but remained in the area until midnight to monitor what their supply boats would do next
Gutierrez added that there were times China also issued radio challenges, which he described as “normal.” In response, their boat captains replied, “This is a supply ship that will conduct rotation and reprovision in Ayungin.”
According to Western Command commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, both supply boats did not sustain any damage. They will still be used in the coming days to resupply the military troops at BRP Sierra Madre.
“We usually deliver 30 days worth of food, water, and other supplies to our troops in Ayungin. Since only half made it to the ship, that’s for two weeks—we need to do another run before the supplies run out,” he said.
“We’re going to do that again in two weeks’ time, the earliest next week, hopefully,” added Carlos, hoping that there will be no more water cannoning incidents and less aggressive reception from China, particularly because of the international attention that the weekend incident generated.
However, he said there will be changes in protocols, which he did not detail.