The ship in question is the BRP Sierra Madre, formerly the USS Harnett County, a World War II-era tank landing ship used for amphibious assaults. Following a stint in South Vietnamese service during the Vietnam War, the US gave the ship to Manila, which used it through the 1990s.
China to Philippines: Remove ‘Illegally’ Grounded Warship From Disputed Reef
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Beijing has told Manila it needs to remove a rusting hulk from a disputed reef in the South China Sea following a showdown with resupply ships over the weekend. The Philippines intentionally grounded the ship there more than 20 years ago to lay claim to the submerged reef.
The Chinese government on Monday urged their Philippine counterparts to remove an “illegally” grounded warship from a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands, which is claimed by both China and the Philippines.
“The Chinese side urges the Philippines to tow away the grounded warship from the Renai Reef and restore the Renai Reef to its original state,” the Chinese spokesperson said, using China’s name for the underwater feature which is known in English as Second Thomas Shoal.
The demands came after a showdown over the weekend – the second in as many months – in which Chinese Coast Guard ships using water cannons drove off a pair of Philippine resupply ships attempting to reach the grounded vessel. Chinese officials described the coast guard’s actions as “professional and restrained” after Philippine authorities protested.
The Sierra Madre was intentionally grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 as part of an effort by Manila to lay claim to the totally-submerged reef. In the Philippines it is called Ayungin Shoal. The reef is about 121 miles west of the Philippine island of Palawan, and the Sierra Madre sits on a shallow reef on the northwestern side of its teardrop shape.
The Philippine transport ship RMS Sierra Madre deliberately grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea
© Google Earth
The Philippine government maintains a small detachment of soldiers on the derelict in an attempt to safeguard its claims. It was they whom the resupply ships were attempting to reach over the weekend.
Second Thomas Shoal is not the only seamount, reef, or island over which Beijing and Manila feud in the South China Sea. However, it is one of the closest to Palawan, a Philippine island home to one of four Philippine military installations to which US forces have been given access, as per a recent agreement with the government of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“We continue to assert our sovereignty. We continue to assert our territorial rights in the face of all of these challenges,” Marcos said. His national security chief echoed his comments, saying the Philippines would never leave the shoal.
The US on Monday reiterated its support for Manila, with a Pentagon spokesperson telling reporters that Washington condemns China’s “efforts to impede lawful operations at Second Thomas Shoal.”
However, at the same time, Marcos has pushed for the finalization of a Code of Conduct for the waterway, where China is not the only country with contested claims over land and sea: Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam have all claimed parts of the South China Sea for themselves, leading to regular encounters like that between the Chinese Coast Guard and Philippine Navy ships over the weekend. The code would normalize protocols for such encounters and hopefully avoid them escalating into diplomatic incidents.