China and the Philippines on Sunday accused each other of causing collisions in a disputed area of the South China Sea, the latest in a string of maritime confrontations between the two countries that have heightened regional tensions.
In a statement, Philippine authorities said a Chinese Coast Guard ship carried out “dangerous blocking maneuvers” that caused it to collide with a Philippine vessel carrying supplies to troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, in the Spratly Islands chain.
China’s move was “provocative, irresponsible and illegal” and “imperiled the safety of the crew” of the Philippine boats, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said.
In a second incident Sunday, the Philippine task force said a Chinese maritime militia vessel collided with a Philippine coast guard ship, which was on the same mission to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre. Manila grounded the navy transport ship on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 and has manned it with Filipino marines to enforce its claims to the area.
In a statement Sunday, the Chinese Coast Guard accused the Philippines of violating international marine law and threatening the navigation safety of Chinese ships.
It accused the first Philippine ship of trespassing into the waters of what it calls the Nansha islands and Renai Reef, prompting the Chinese Coast Guard ship to intercept “in accordance with the law,” and resulting in a “minor collision.”
In the second incident, the Chinese Coast Guard said the Philippine Coast Guard vessel “purposely provoked trouble and reversed course,” causing a collision with a Chinese fishing boat.
Beijing claims “indisputable sovereignty” over almost all of the 1.3 million square miles of the South China Sea, as well as most of the islands and sandbars within it, including many features that are hundreds of miles away from China’s mainland.
In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a landmark maritime dispute, which concluded that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to the bulk of the South China Sea.
Beijing has ignored the ruling.
No injuries were reported in either collision Sunday, which marks the latest in a series of recent flashpoints between Beijing and Manila in the disputed waterway.
In September, the Philippine Coast Guard released video of a Filipino diver cutting a Chinese-installed floating barrier in a disputed area of the waterway that had prevented Filipino boats from entering.
It came just days after after the Philippine Coast Guard accused China’s maritime militia of turning vast patches of coral near the Palawan island chain into a bleached and broken wasteland.
China’s foreign ministry dismissed those allegations as “false and groundless.”