Gray Zone Tactics Playbook: Ramming

Ramming is the act of deliberately colliding with another ship in order to damage it or disrupt its operations.
Gaute Friis | JULY 31, 2023
Gray Zone Tactics Playbook: Ramming
Chinese tugboat Xinhai 285 rams Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance ship KN-951, June 23, 2014. (Source: Center for Global Studies, University of Washington)

Gaute Friis




Ramming is the act of steering one vessel directly into another, damaging or even sinking it. China's paramilitary People's Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) operates scores of ships with reinforced steel hulls purpose-built for ramming.

Some instances of ramming may be accidents caused by the failed application of other tactics, such as reckless bow-crossing

The 2019 ramming of a wooden Filipino fishing boat, the F/B Gem-Ver, by the probable PAFMM ship Yue Mao Bin Yu 42212 caused a major diplomatic crisis between Beijing and Manila.

Other examples: 

On the morning of April 2, 2020 near Woody Island in the Parcels, Vietnamese fishing boat QNG 90617 TS was rammed and sunk by China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel Haijing 4301, after which the crews of QNG 90617 TS and two other Vietnamese fishing vessels were forcibly brought to the Chinese outpost on Woody Island for interrogation. The Vietnamese fishermen were only released after confessing to illegally fishing in Chinese waters.

Vietnamese fishermen who came to rescue took these photos of the sinking QNG 90617-TS, courtesy of journalist Nga Pham

Vietnamese fishing vessel QNg 90617-TS sinking after being rammed by CCG Haijing 4301. (Source: Nga Pham)

On September 29, 2015 near the Crescent Group in the Paracel Islands, a Chinese ship rammed a Vietnamese fishing vessel while its crew was asleep, according to Vietnamese authorities. The Chinese crew, armed with knives and electric batons, also beat up the Vietnamese crew and stole seafood and fishing gear worth tens of thousands of US dollars. Upon noticing that the Vietnamese boat was sinking, the Chinese vessel left, ignoring the fishermen's request for rescue.

Between May 1 and July 15, 2014, a major stand-off between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels took place after China deployed deep-water drilling rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 into disputed waters off the Vietnamese coast. The operation was protected by a flotilla of Chinese vessels establishing a security cordon around the rig. Vietnam sent dozens of ships to disrupt the survey operation and subsequently documented a number of ramming incidents, including the following video published by the Vietnamese Coast Guard:

See the rest of the playbook here.

Gaute Friis

Gaute is a Defense Innovation Scholar at Stanford's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.

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