West Philippine Sea 101: Second Thomas Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A rusty old ship perched on a shallow patch of the West Philippine Sea is the country’s outpost in the Second Thomas Shoal — known to Filipinos as Ayungin Shoal.

The BRP Sierra Madre has seen many battles — some dating back to World War II. Now, it slowly breaks apart in the briny air. But is still put to use by a garrison of soldiers guarding the Philippine claim over the area.

Ayungin Shoal lies 105 nautical miles from Palawan, well within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. It is also part of the country's continental shelf.

But China is still claiming Ayungin, as well as the rest of the West Philippine Sea. Philippine supply boats have had to dodge Chinese patrol ships on the prowl around the shoal, at times preventing them from bringing food, drinking water and other necessities to the Filipino soldiers stationed on the Sierra Madre.

The Philippine Navy deliberately ran the ship aground in 1999, after China occupied the nearby Mischief Reef. It is now the only thing keeping China from occupying Ayungin Shoal.

Recently, the Philippine Navy revealed that it is reinforcing the BRP Sierra Madre by transporting cement, steel and welding equipment in wooden boats.

Beijing criticized Manila for the move, calling it a ‘troublemaker’.

But Manila persists in maintaining the ship to keep it from falling apart. It is, after all, the country’s last stand in Ayungin Shoal.