Philippine Coast Guard Dodges Chinese Vessels to Carry Out Medevac

BRP Sierra Madre
Three China Coast Guard boats surround two Philippine RHIBs during the personnel transfer (PCG)

Published Jul 9, 2024 1:19 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Philippine Coast Guard has carried out another medevac from the outpost on Second Thomas Shoal, where a small garrison of Philippine troops maintains an outpost aboard a deteriorating landing ship, the BRP Sierra Madre. As in all recent supply and personnel transfer runs at the site, Chinese small-boat forces opposed the PCG operation, according to spokesman Jay Tarriela - but this time, the Philippine forces made it through.

The PCG deployed to evacuate a Philippine Navy sailor from the BRP Sierra Madre on July 7. The individual needed emergency medical treatment, and the PCG cutters BRP Cabra and BRP Cape Engaño got under way to assist. The plan called for a small-boat transfer, and the crew of BRP Sierra Madre put the patient aboard a RHIB for a shallow-water transit away from the reef. Meanwhile, the PCG cutters launched a RHIB to meet up and take aboard the patient. 

"The PCG faced numerous obstructing and delaying maneuvers by CCG vessels, but they remained steadfast to their humanitarian mission," said Tarriela. "Despite the threatening presence of various CCG small vessels, the PCG RHIB was able to return to the main PCG vessel without further interruption." 

The patient was treated on board by the PCG and is in stable condition, Tarriela said. 

Videos released by the PCG show Chinese small-boats closely shadowing the Philippine operation. Unlike the last interaction at Second Thomas Shoal, which turned violent, Chinese forces did not appear to engage in ramming or towing - but they still heavily outnumbered their Philippine counterparts. 

The previous clash between Chinese and Philippine forces at BRP Sierra Madre was far more serious, and eight Philippine personnel sustained injuries from repeated high-speed ramming by the China Coast Guard's RHIBs. One servicemember lost a thumb in a ramming incident, and narrowly escaped more serious injury. The CCG also brandished knives and axes to threaten the Philippine personnel, and they caused about $1 million in property damage to two Philippine boats. 

Though Second Thomas Shoal is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), China claims the reef - and the surrounding waters - as its own sovereign territory. The area is more than 600 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland, but it is within the boundaries of China's sweeping "nine-dash line" maritime claim, which covers the overwhelming majority of the South China Sea.