China demands 'immediate' release of PH-detained fishermen

MANILA, Philippines – Asserting that its fishermen were operating in an area where it had "indisputable sovereignty," China has urged the Philippines to "immediately" release its detained nationals arrested off the coast of Palawan.

In a news conference on Wednesday, May 7, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying warned the Philippines on "taking any further provocative actions" in relation to the incident, which involved the discovery of 500 turtles aboard the Chinese fishing boat.

"The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines have lodged representations with the Philippine side, asking for rational explanation and an immediate release of the Chinese boat and its crew," Hua said, based on the English transcript posted on China's Foreign Ministry website.

"We warn the Philippine side against taking any further provocative actions."

Watch this report below.

The Philippine National Police maritime group intercepted the Chinese fishing boat on Hasa-Hasa Shoal (Half Moon Shoal), which is just 60 nautical miles from the coast of Palawan – well within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

Hua asserted China's claim over the area.

"China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, including the Banyue Reef (Hasa-Hasa Shoal), and other adjacent islands," she said.

Hua also said that Chinese Coast Guard vessels arrived at the scene.

Respect for law, rights

She maintained that "China always urges Chinese fishermen to conduct fishing activities in accordance with the law," Xinhua, China's state-owned news service, reported.

Xinhua also said that Hua urged the "relevant countries to properly handle relevant affairs and safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese fishermen."

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that  relevant authorities in Palawan will address the case "in a just, humane, and expeditious manner."

"The seizing of the Chinese fishing boat...and the apprehension of its crew...were undertaken as actions to enforce maritime laws and to uphold Philippine sovereign rights over its EEZ," the statement read.

Xinhua reported that according to the Tanmen fishing association in Qionghai City, Hainan Province, "several armed men forced themselves onto the boat and fired 4 or 5 shots in the air" before taking control of the boat.

It also said that another fishing boat managed to escape authorities.

PNP Spokesman Senior Superintendent Theodore Sindac had earlier said that maritime police captured two vessels at 7 am on Tuesday, May 6 – a local boat with around 40 turtles, and a Chinese board with 11 passengers and 500 turtles.

The Chinese fishing boat, Qiongqionghai 09063, has been towed to Palawan, and was expected to arrive on Thursday, for the appropriate filing of charges.

The incident is expected to add to tensions between the two countries locked in a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which prompted the Philippines to seek international arbitration, a move opposed by China.

Hasa-Hasa Shoal is frequented by Chinese fishermen. In 2012, a Chinese naval frigate was stranded in the same area. (READ: Chinese ship rescued in Half Moon Shoal) – Rappler.com