Humanitarian Convoy Forced Home Amid Pressure from China

( – A civilian convoy attempting to bring Christmas cheer to fishermen and military personnel staged in contentious territory in the South China Sea had to turn back all but one vessel after Chinese Coast Guard forces interrupted the mission.

The civilian effort consisted of over 40 different vessels sailing from Palawan, an island province in the Philippines on December 10th. The organizers told Newsweek that they felt compelled to exercise their right to travel and wanted to bring some “Christmas cheer” to the men working in remote and contested areas.

Calling themselves “Atin Ito” which is Tagalog for “it’s ours” the convoy members wanted to send a clear message to Beijing, after its vessels had harassed previous supply missions.

Gretchen Ho shared footage of their encounter with Chinese vessels to X (Twitter). Roughly a half hour after they first spotted a Chinese Navy Destroyer, Captain Jorge dela Cruz made the decision to abort the mission due to “dangerous maneuvers by the Chinese ships.”

Ho added that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel approached the lead vessel Felix Oca head-on with only 2.5 nautical miles between them.

Organizer Emman Hizon said their resolve is undeterred by the Chinese aggression and they will make another attempt after reflecting and learning from this last experience. He promised “many civilian-led supply missions” in the future. They said their next one should happen in the first quarter of 2024.

The convoy was attempting to land at Lawak Island which is in the Spratly Islands archipelago, China claims the region. One ship was able to evade the Chinese however, and landed at Lawak Island on Monday, December 11th. The M/V Chowee took a separate course from the main flotilla, which could suggest a potential future strategy for success.

More than 200 students, journalists, youths were aboard the vessels in the convoy.

The mission follows recent attempts by China to harass Philippine naval vessels operating in the area. A resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal was harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard using water cannons which damaged one ship so badly it had to be towed back to the port. Another incident occurred in waters near the Scarborough Shoal when ships with the Philippine government were again harassed by Chinese naval vessels with dangerous maneuvers and water cannons.

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