The Philippines grounded The Sierra Madre atop a reef and now a detachment of marines occupies the vessel to detect and deter Chinese threats.
The Philippine marines are using a dilapidated U.S. Navy ship from WWII as a makeshift base of operations to detect and defend against Chinese ships.
The Sierra Madre served as a transport ship during WWII, but was later sold to the Philippines in 1999. The Philippines then intentionally ran the ship aground The Second Thomas Shoal reef in the South China Sea and the rusting, rat-infested war relic now floats at the front lines of a territorial dispute between the Philippines and China, CNN reports.
The Second Thomas Shoal is part of the Spratly Islands, which has been claimed by both the Philippines and China. The Philippines wrecked the Sierra Madre on the reef in response to China taking control of a nearby reef in 1994.
“We were forced, and we had no recourse but to look for means by which we can retain our presence,” explained then Secretary of Defense Orlando Sanchez Mercado. “And during our watch, we decided that the best we could do was to beach this particular ship and keep our troops there. They have been there for all this time.”
A detachment of Philippine marines are stationed at the isolated Sierra Madre and serve on three-month rotations. Their supplies are airdropped in, but they also supplement their food by spearfishing. While certain aspects of their duty may seem like a tropical paradise, the marines are prepared to act on a moment’s notice.
“If the Chinese try to enter here, we’ll defend it,” said Lt. Earl Pama. “We will use our training to defend the ship. We will lay down our lives to defend this ship.”