Philippine police said Wednesday they had seized a Chinese fishing vessel and detained its 11 crew members in South China Sea waters claimed by both countries, in the latest escalation of their bitter maritime row.
Philippine National Police spokesman Reuben Sindac said the 15-ton Chinese boat had been intercepted Tuesday while fishing off Half Moon Shoal, west of Palawan, in what he said were Philippine waters.
The Chinese crew will be further charged with violating anti-poaching laws after a huge haul of some 500 turtles was found on board, Sindac added.
But China angrily responded that it had “undisputable sovereignty” over the Half Moon Shoal, which it calls the Ban Yue Reef, and urged the Philippines to “stop taking further provocative action”.
“Relevant authorities from China have arrived at the scene,” Beijing’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular briefing.
“We ask the Philippines side to give their explanation and deal with this case properly,” Hua added.
“We ask the Philippines side to release the vessel and the crew, and we urge the Philippines side to stop taking further provocative action.”
Lying around 111 kilometers west of Palawan, Half Moon Shoal is on the eastern edge of the Spratlys, a chain that sits near vital sea lanes and is believed to harbor vast oil and gas resources.
China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea has strained its ties to neighboring countries.
Thousands of American and Philippine troops launched large annual exercises last week after US President Barack Obama vowed “ironclad” backing for its ally as the maritime dispute rumbles on.
The Philippines in March filed a formal plea to the United Nations challenging Beijing’s claim, in defiance of Chinese warnings that it would seriously damage their already frayed relations.
Beijing has rejected UN arbitration and urged Manila to settle the dispute through bilateral talks instead.
Sindac said the Chinese vessel was intercepted along with a Filipino-manned fishing boat that also had a catch of around 40 protected turtles.
Half of the turtles aboard the two boats were already dead, Sindac said, adding the Filipino fishermen were also detained.
It was not clear whether the two boats were working together when they were caught.