China wants Philippines to free fishing ship, crew

Posted at 05/07/14 9:45 PM

BEIJING - China has demanded the Philippines release a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized in the disputed South China Sea on Wednesday (May 7), the latest flare-up in the oil and gas-rich waters that are claimed wholly or in part by six nations.

Philippine authorities said a maritime police patrol apprehended a Chinese fishing boat around 7 a.m. on Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands on the South China Sea.

The boat has 11 crew and police found about 350 turtles in the vessel, some of which were already dead, a police report said, adding that a Philippine boat with crew was also seized, and found to have 70 turtles on board. Several species of sea turtles are protected under Philippine law.

China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, said the Philippines had to release the boat and the fishermen.

"China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly islands and surrounding waters, including the Half Moon Shoal. Currently, the Chinese coast guard vessel(s) have arrived at the scene. The China's Foreign Ministry and the Chinese embassy to the Philippines have made representations to the Philippines immediately after the incident happened, demanding that it provide a rational explanation and immediately release the people and the vessel. We once again warn the Philippines not to take any provocative actions," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

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.

While there are frequent stand-offs between fishermen and the various claimant states in the South China Sea, the actual detention of Chinese fishermen or the seizure of a boat is rare.

Tensions are also brewing in another part of the sea, where China has warned Vietnam not to disturb activities of Chinese companies operating near disputed islands. Earlier, Hanoi condemned the movement of a giant Chinese oil rig into what it said was its territorial waters.