The Philippines Maritime Police apprehended a Chinese fishing boat in the South China Sea on Tuesday, an official from the police told media on Wednesday.
Niel Vargas, Chief Superintendent of the Philippine National Police Maritime Group, told Reuters that the fishing boat had been seized around 7 a.m. on Tuesday near Half Moon Shoal. According to the report, the fishing boat had a crew of about 11 people and was found carrying 500 sea turtles, some of which were already dead.
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Citing Vargas, Reuters reported that “Maritime police are now towing the boats to Puerto Princesa town on the island of Palawan where appropriate charges will be filed against them.”
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Minister, told a daily press briefing on Wednesday that China was demanding that the Philippine authorities release the fishermen immediately.
An earlier report in China’s state media said that the crew had been seized by armed men without identifying them as Philippine maritime authorities. “Contact with 11 fishermen has been lost after they were intercepted by armed men in the South China Sea on Tuesday morning,” Xinhua News Agency reported.
It went on: “They were on board fishing boat Qiongqionghai 09063, which was intercepted by an unidentified armed vessel at about 10 a.m. in waters off the Half Moon Shoal of Nansha Islands…. Several armed men forced themselves onto the boat and fired four or five shots in the air. They then took control of the boat.”
The report also said that the Qionghai municipal government in Hainan Province, which China’s Coast Guard and other maritime authorities use to patrol the South China Sea, has mobilized two nearby fishing boats to search for the missing fishermen. The report, which at the time of this writing remains on the front page of Xinhua’s English language website, concluded by saying that the Half Moon Shoal was a major fishing base for Chinese fishermen.
The fishermen’s seizure is just the latest incident to escalate tensions in the South China Sea, which is claimed in whole or part by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.
This week alone has also witnessed tensions between China and Vietnam intensify after Beijing deployed an oil rig in a disputed part of the South China Sea over the weekend. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Vietnam has responded by deploying as many as 29 armed naval and civilian vessels to the area to prevent the oil rig from being set up. The report also said that the incident had resulted in a collision between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels.
An editorial appearing in China’s Global Times on Wednesday blasted Vietnam for its response. “We believe Hanoi has no guts to attack China’s drilling platform directly,” the editorial said, according to AFP. The editorial added:
“If Vietnam takes further actions in Xisha, the level of China’s countermeasures must be elevated.
“China should evaluate whether Vietnam would stick its head out and become a more aggressive provocateur than the Philippines. If so, China should alter its Vietnam policy and give Hanoi a lesson it deserves to get.”
The Philippines’ decision to seize the Chinese fishing boat is likely to result in countermeasures from China if they are not released quickly. In 2010 China cut off rare earth exports to Japan after Tokyo detained a drunk Chinese fishing boat captain whose vessel had collided with a Japanese Coast Guard vessel in the East China Sea.