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Philippines seizes Chinese boats

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippines has seized 25 small Chinese boats after the Navy confronted a larger Chinese fishing vessel in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea last Tuesday.

The encounter followed a series of incidents between the two nations in the strategically vital West Philippine Sea this year that have led to a spike in diplomatic tensions.

Authorities said the bigger Chinese vessel was towing the 25 wooden, motorized dinghies near the Recto Bank (Reed Bank), an atoll just 150 kilometers from Palawan.

"The Chinese vessel strayed into our waters," said Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Raul Hernandez.

However, he sought to downplay the significance of the encounter, describing it as a "little incident" and saying the Philippines was considering returning the wooden boats, which had no people on them.

The bigger vessel cut loose the dinghies when a Philippine Navy gunboat approached the Chinese party, said Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban, chief of the Western Command based in Palawan.

"We want to make it clear that there was no hostile intention on our part," Sabban told AFP, dismissing some local media reports that suggested the gunboat had deliberately rammed the main Chinese fishing vessel.

"The normal procedure is to approach them and inform them that they are in Philippine territory and, if they are fishing, they should have permission from the government.

"As the gunboat was approaching, the mother ship suddenly cut off the towing lines and left behind the small boats. We might have scared them off," Sabban said.

Defense spokesperson Zosimo Paredes said the Philippines had apologized to the Chinese Embassy through the DFA for the unintentional collision with one of the smaller boats.

He said the Navy ship was on a routine patrol when it came upon the large Chinese fishing vessel towing the small fishing boats in the Recto Bank.

Paredes said the Navy ship accosted the Chinese vessel and accidentally hit one of the smaller boats when its steering mechanism malfunctioned.

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By News Desk in Manila/Philippine Daily Inquirer | ANN

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