China asks Philippines to release ship, crew

Posted at 05/07/2014 3:38 PM | Updated as of 05/08/2014 1:28 AM

BEIJING - China's foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it had asked the Philippines to hand back a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized by Philippines police in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The Philippines should stop taking provocative actions, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Chief Superintendent Niel Vargas of the Philippine National Police Maritime Group said a maritime police patrol apprehended a Chinese fishing boat around 7 a.m. on Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal.

The boat has 11 crew and police found about 500 turtles in the vessel, some of which were already dead, he said, adding that a Philippine boat with crew was also seized, and found to have 40 turtles on board. Several species of sea turtles are protected under Philippine law.

Maritime police are now towing the boats to Puerto Princesa town on the island of Palawan where appropriate charges will be filed against them, Vargas said.

The incident is bound to raise the ire of Beijing, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

On Tuesday, China warned Vietnam not to disturb activities of Chinese companies operating near disputed islands in another part of the South China Sea, after Hanoi condemned as illegal the movement of a giant Chinese oil rig into what it says is its territorial waters.

There are frequent tensions in the South China Sea between China and the other claimant nations, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, both of which say Beijing has harassed their ships in the waters there.