Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Chinese ship ‘sank’ Philippines boat

FLYING THE FLAG:A Philippine official has opened a kindergarten on one of the disputed Spratly Islands, but said his aim was not to antagonize rival countries

AFP and AP, MANILA

The Philippines alleged yesterday that a Chinese vessel accidentally collided with a local fishing boat north of a disputed South China Sea shoal, killing one and leaving four others missing.

The fishing boat set out from the northern coastal town of Bolinao, in Pangasinan Province, on Monday last week and was reported to have sunk two days later, Office of Civil Defense boss Benito Ramos said.

“Of the eight fishermen aboard, four were plucked out of sea only yesterday, but one of them died in a hospital,” Ramos said. “Four more are still missing.”

The rescued fishermen told authorities they believed the vessel which collided with their boat was Chinese, Ramos said, though this could not be independently verified.

Chinese embassy officials were not available for comment yesterday.

Ramos said the alleged incident occurred north of Scarborough Shoal where the Philippines and China have been engaged in a tense stand off since April.

“It’s north of the Scarborough, though we could not determine how far in terms of distance or nautical miles,” he said.

The Scarborough Shoal is known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in Taiwan, which also lays claim to it.

Philippines President President Benigno Aquino III earlier this month ordered two Philippine ships to pull out from the shoal during bad weather, a move that the Chinese said calmed tensions in the area.

While China said it would also ask its fishermen to leave the area, it stressed it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there.

As of last week, there were still seven Chinese ships at the shoal, according to the Philippines foreign ministry.

The dispute began in April after Chinese government vessels blocked Philippine ships from arresting Chinese fishermen near the shoal.

Since then, both countries have maintained ships there to press their respective claims to the area.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries. The Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile (370km) exclusive economic zone.

The shoal sits about 230km from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon. The nearest major Chinese landmass is 1,200km northwest of the shoal, according to Philippine navy maps.

Meanwhile, a Philippine official said he has opened a small kindergarten on another South China Sea island that is also claimed by five other countries.

Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said yesterday that his aim was to help the 37-hectare island’s civilian community and not to antagonize rival claimant countries. The school was inaugurated without fanfare on June 15 with five students, their parents and a teacher. A Philippine flag fluttered in the breeze in the schoolyard.

The Philippines calls the island Pag-asa — or “hope” in Tagalog. It is guarded by Filipino troops.

It is part of the Spratlys archipelago (南沙群島), which is also claimed by Taiwan, China, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

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