China’s maritime mastery of the South China Sea appears unstoppable. On March 9, Chinese coast guard vessels turned back two Philippine cargo ships attempting to resupply troops based on an eroding WW II-era vessel marooned on the Ayungin Shoal, known as the Renai Shoal to China.
The BRP Sierra Madre was grounded on the shoal sometime in 1999 where it has served as an outpost for Philippine troops and a visible symbol of Manila’s territorial claim to the shoal.
Unable to resupply by sea, the Philippines was able to resupply by air in midweek with a fixed-wing BN-2 Islander light utility aircraft. China claims the ships were carrying more than supplies, and were actually loaded with construction materials for building a larger station on the shoal.
It is unclear whether Manila will be able to maintain the small force of Philippine Marines on the derelict vessel.