Build ‘turtle ships’ to resupply Ayungin

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Our engineers must build “turtle ships.” Such ships would fend off Chinese ramming, laser gunning and water cannoning in our seas.

Turtle ships actively would defend resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. As well, protect food and fuel deliveries to fishermen in Panatag Shoal. And transport marine scientists and oil drillers to the West Philippine Sea.

The other Saturday’s simultaneous China Coast Guard aggressions make turtle shipbuilding urgent. CCG water cannonade wrecked a Filipino wooden civilian craft and gravely wounded four crewmen near Ayungin. In Sandy Cay, a CCG helicopter menaced researchers.

Shipbuilders can study Korean-designed turtle craft. Those vessels thwarted Japanese invaders during the War of 1592-1598. Turtle ships were Korea’s only defense; its army was weak and tattered. Admiral Yi Sunsin’s redesigned warships saved Korea’s independence.

Earliest references to turtle ships, 1413 and 1415, were of repulses of Jurchen (later called Manchu) and Japanese pirates. Made of light but sturdy materials, the vessels were mainstays of Korea’s navy up to the 1800s.

The ship looked like a gigantic turtle, 35 meters long. The main body was a dome-shaped shell. It had a short bow for a neck. The prow was a dragon head with a cannon. It also spewed poison smoke which scared superstitious enemies who believed in fire-breathing serpents.

The wooden ship was maneuverable. Hexagonal plates formed the dome. Poisoned iron spikes protruded from the roof to deter enemy boarding. Inflated rice sacks hid the spikes to lure foes into fatal self-injury.

Beneath the protective dome was a circular bulwark. From portholes all around protruded more cannons. Fully supplied crew sheltered inside.

A modern turtle ship for the Philippine Coast Guard can have standard machine guns, laser signals and firefighting water cannons. Navy versions can carry missiles and torpedoes. Aerial and water drones can complete the weaponry – all proudly Filipino-made.

“Given the most recent incident at Ayungin, it’s time to ask our shipbuilders to design anti-water cannon shields for our resupply ships,” international maritime lawyer Jay Batongbacal, PhD, told this column. “We can probably take a page from the ancient Korean turtle ships.”

Online chat groups of retired generals and colonels are abuzz with proposals on “active defense.” The term refers to military or cyber strategies, including asymmetric ways to increase costs to adversaries. For US armed forces, it denotes low-intensity offensives and counterattacks to deny the enemy a contested area or position.

Backed by maritime militia steel trawlers, CCG gunboats ram and watercannon Filipino civilian craft at Ayungin. In December 2023, AFP Chief Romeo Brawner and his deputy were aboard the Philippine Coast Guard patrol that the CCG attacked.

In April 2020 and February 2023, CCG fired military-grade green lasers at Filipino coastguards escorting the resupplies. International law forbids civilian use of war weapons. Unlike civilian red lasers, green lasers can kill, permanently blind and deeply burn humans. CCG lied that it merely measured the distance from the Philippine boat whose path it dangerously crossed.

CCG ships are three times longer than Philippine counterparts. Some have 18,000-ton gross weight, larger than People’s Liberation Army-Navy 12,000-ton corvettes. The CCG and maritime militia report to the China Communist Party’s Central Military Commission.

A 2021 Chinese law authorizes the CCG to fire at, board or seize foreign vessels in the South China Sea. China illegally claims the entire SCS, encroaching the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

CCG gunboats also aggress smaller Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources craft. BFAR regularly feeds and fuels penurious fisherfolk near Panatag Shoal off Zambales. CCG gunboats menace petroleum surveyors in Recto Bank.

The CCG and maritime militia attack in Ayungin last March 23 was among the worst. Two of the four crewmen seriously wounded by intense water cannon required surgery; the first, 13 stitches under his left eye, the other, seven stitches on the head.

That same morning in Sandy Cay, a CCG chopper descended to less than 50 feet and buzzed UP and BFAR marine biologists. It deliberately swirled up sand and debris to stop their survey of Chinese destruction of sea resources. Divers scanning the sea floor were prevented from ascending despite dwindling oxygen tank supply.

“We know that China will continue to assault our resupply and research missions,” Batongbacal said. “Rushing construction of turtle ships will defend our frontlines.”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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