MANILA - (UPDATE3 - 6:36 p.m.) The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs signalled Wednesday it was not heeding an appeal by China's foreign ministry to hand back a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized by Philippines police for poaching in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The Philippines should stop taking provocative actions, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
The DFA in Manila defended the acts of the officials who apprehended the crew and seized the boat and the marine shipment, adding in a statement that Philippine authorities in Palawan “will address this case in a just, humane and expeditious manner.”
The DFA stressed that the “seizing of the Chinese fishing boat, carrying large numbers of endangered species, and the apprehension of its crew by the Philippine National Police Maritime Group Special Boat Unit were undertaken as actions to enforce maritime laws and to uphold Philippine sovereign rights over its EEZ.”
Maritime police arrested a Chinese fishing boat with 11 crewmen and a haul of about 500 turtles off a disputed shoal in the Spratly Islands but within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, a senior official said on Wednesday.
The Chinese fishing boat was intercepted off Half Moon Shoal on Tuesday, said Chief Superintendent Noel Vargas, head of the Philippine National Police maritime group.
"The fishing boat is now being towed to Palawan where appropriate charges will be filed against them," Vargas said.
The shoal is some 100 kilometers from southwestern Palawan.
Chinese crew to be charged - PNP
National police spokesman Reuben Sindac said the 15-tonne Chinese boat had been intercepted Tuesday while fishing off Half Moon Shoal, west of the major Philippine island 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, he added.
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.
China angrily responds
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."
Xinhua report: armed men took fishers
Earlier, Chinese state agency Xinhua reported that contact had been lost with the 11 fishermen after they were intercepted by "armed men" and their ship seized.
The Xinhua report said the fishermen were on board the fishing boat Qiongqionghai 09063, which was intercepted at about 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) in waters off Half-Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands, citing a fishing association in Qionghai on China's southern island province of Hainan.
The report did not mention a Philippine police presence.
"Several armed men forced themselves onto the boat and fired four or five shots in the air. They then took control of the boat," Xinhua said.
A second fishing boat escaped, but then encountered another armed boat, though it was able to get away, the report added.
The Qionghai government has sent other trawlers operating close by to help look for the fishermen, but has yet to find them, Xinhua said.
Reuters was not immediately able to reach officials in Hainan for comment.
China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts or all of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
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.
On Tuesday, China warned Vietnam not to disturb activities of Chinese companies operating near disputed islands in 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.