MANILA — The Philippine Coast Guard on Monday accused a Chinese coastguard vessel of shining a "military-grade laser light" at one of its boats in the West Philippine Sea, temporarily blinding crew members.
The incident happened on Feb. 6 nearly 20 kilometers from Ayungin Shoal in the Spratly Islands, where Philippine marines are stationed, the coast guard said in a statement.
A Chinese ship with bow number 5205 shone a green laser light twice toward the Philippine patrol boat BRP Malapascua, "causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge", the PCG said in a statement.
The Chinese vessel also made "dangerous maneuvers" by coming within about 140 meters of the Philippine boat.
BRP Malapascua was supporting a "rotation and resupply mission" last week for the troops, who live in a derelict navy ship grounded on the shoal to assert Manila's territorial claims.
"The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel... is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea," the PCG said.
It was the latest episode in a series of maritime incidents between the Philippines and China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea. Beijing has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.
The incident also occurred days after the United States and the Philippines agreed to resume joint patrols in the sea and struck a deal to give US troops access to another 4 military bases in the Southeast Asian country.
AFP TO CHINA: STOP 'PROVOCATIVE' ACTS
The Chinese coast guard's use of laser light was "offensive and unsafe," the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said, quoting Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.
"Therefore, I think it’s time for the Chinese government to restrain its forces so that it does not commit any provocative act that will endanger the lives of people," AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar told reporters.
It is not clear if the resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal was successful. Privately owned vessels are normally used to carry supplies, with the coast guard accompanying them.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels also blockaded the Philippines-garrisoned shoal in August to stop government ships from reaching the troops, the coast guard said.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed in January to set up direct communication between their foreign ministries to avoid "miscommunication" in the area.
It is not known if the hotline was used in the latest incident.
The US-Philippine deal earlier this month brings to 9 the total number of Philippine bases accessible to US forces.
It comes as the long-time allies seek to counter China's military rise in the region.
Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea.
“The PCG will continue to exercise due diligence in protecting the country's territorial integrity against foreign aggression," said said Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Artemio Abu.
— With reports from Agence France-Presse; Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News