Mission possible to Ayungin Shoal: Get around China to revisit ‘LT 57’


HOORAY. Marine Sgt. Rey Sarmiento (R) and Pfc. Ryan Esteban react when the PH supply ship arrives March 29, alongside BRP Sierra Madre, their home for 138 days. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

AYUNGIN SHOAL, West Philippine Sea—Standing on the bridge of the AM700, our small resupply vessel, Navy Lt. (s.g.) Ferdinand Gato had his eyes on the looming image of a huge rusting ship here on Ayungin Shoal.

We were sailing on a shallow part of the shoal. The Chinese Coast Guard vessel that tried to block our way earlier was already behind us.

From the moment we began our 36-and-a-half-hour trip to Ayungin Shoal, Gato had a mantra: “We will get to 57, no matter what.”

His smile, as he repeatedly said this throughout our journey on the high seas, wasn’t so much an indication of confidence as of determination.

By “57,” Gato was referring to the BRP Sierra Madre, the dilapidated landing ship tank (LT 57) that has become the country’s symbol of sovereignty in the territory that is also being claimed by China.