Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre was intentionally ran aground at Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. 
Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong — Manila has accused China of injuring Filipino personnel and damaging Philippine vessels during a South China Sea collision earlier this week, as tensions simmer over territorial disputes in the resource-rich and strategically important waterway.

The Philippines and China have both blamed each other for the clash Monday near Second Thomas Shoal in the contested Spratly Islands, with a statement from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday providing the first official confirmation from either side that injuries and damage were sustained. It follows multiple reports of injuries to Filipino sailors carried in local media and the Associated Press, citing sources, as well as from US officials.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs “denounces the illegal and aggressive actions of Chinese authorities that resulted in personnel injury and vessel damage,” the statement said, without specifying how many sailors were wounded or providing any details of their injuries.

At least eight Filipinos were injured in the incident – including one sailor who lost a thumb, the AP reported Tuesday, citing an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

CNN has reached out to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard for comment.

Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times published photos of the incident online on Wednesday, showing a Philippine rigid-hulled inflatable boat sandwiched between a large China Coast Guard vessel and at least three other Chinese boats.

When asked about the incident in a news conference on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said, “law enforcement measures taken by the Chinese Coast Guard on the spot were professional and restrained, aimed at stopping the illegal fishing by Philippine ships, and no direct measures were taken against Philippine personnel.”

The incident Monday is the latest in a string of confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships that have raised the possibility of the South China Sea becoming a flashpoint for global conflict. It comes just weeks after Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. warned that the death of any Filipino citizen at the hands of another country in the waterway would be “very close” to an act of war.

Marcos has sought closer ties with the US, which has repeatedly stressed Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to a 1951 mutual defense treaty between the US and the Philippines that stipulates both sides would help defend each other if either were attacked by a third party.

China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over almost all of the South China Sea, and most of the islands and sandbars within it, including many features that are hundreds of miles from mainland China. Multiple governments, including Manila, hold competing claims.

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a landmark maritime dispute, which concluded that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to the bulk of the South China Sea.

But Beijing has ignored the ruling. Instead it has increasingly pushed its maritime territorial claims, with China Coast Guard ships – reinforced by militia boats – involved in multiple clashes over the past year that have damaged Philippine ships and seen Filipino sailors injured by water cannon.

Known as Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines and Ren’ai Jiao in China, Second Thomas Shoal is a submerged teardrop-shaped reef located about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Philippine island of Palawan.

It lies in the Spratly Islands, a mostly uninhabited archipelago where oil and gas reserves have been found, and which is claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines carried a resupply on Monday to its soldiers stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting US-built Philippine Navy landing craft that was run aground deliberately in 1999, with a national flag hoisted on board, to assert Manila’s territorial claims over Second Thomas Shoal.

The China Coast Guard on Monday said a Philippine supply ship “ignored China’s repeated solemn warnings” and “deliberately and dangerously” approached a Chinese vessel in “an unprofessional manner,” resulting in a collision.

A supply ship and two rubber boats from the Philippines had attempted to “illegally” deliver supplies to the stranded warship, China Coast Guard spokesperson Gan Yu said.

China’s Coast Guard also said it took measures including “warnings and interceptions, boarding inspections and forced evictions” against the Philippine vessels.

Multiple US officials criticized China’s actions Monday and stressed Washington’s support for Manila.

The “United States stands with its ally the Philippines and condemns the escalatory and irresponsible actions” by China, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

As reported by CNN