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Philippines says Chinese laser temporarily blinded ship crew

February 13, 2023

The incident occurred last week near the Spratly Islands. It's the latest escalation in tensions between China and the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea.

A handout photo of a green laser reportedly being shone from a Chinese coast guard ship
Manila said the Chinese vessel shone a green "military grade laser light"Image: Philippine Coast Guard/AFP

The Philippine Coast Guard on Monday accused China's coast guard of shining a "military-grade laser light" at one of its ships in the disputed South China Sea.

Manila said the incident temporarily blinded some of the ship's crew members.

Officials said the incident occurred on February 6, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

Philippine troops are stationed on Second Thomas Shoal inside the BRP Sierra Madre, a derelict navy ship that has been grounded into the reef to assert Manila's territorial claims.

"The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel on board the BRP Sierra Madre is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea,'' said the Philippine Coast Guard, using the country's official terminology for the stretch of waters close to its western coast.

A green laser shining from a distant ship
The Philippine Coast Guard released photos of what it said was a Chinese laser being shone at its shipImage: Philippine Coast Guard/AFP

What happened?

The Philippine Coast Guard said its patrol boat was supporting a "rotation and resupply mission" when a Chinese coast guard vessel shone a green laser at the bridge of the Philippine ship.

Officials also accused the Chinese ship of making "dangerous maneuvers" 150 meters away from the Philippine ship. 

"The Philippine coast guard will continue to exercise due diligence in protecting the country's territorial integrity against foreign aggression," Philippines Admiral Artemio Abu said.

It is not clear if the resupply mission was completed.

What did China say?

China's Foreign Ministry said the coast guard conducted actions according to the law.

"We urge the Philippines to avoid such actions, and the actions of China's staff are professional and restrained," China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing.

zc/jsi (AP, AFP, Reuters)