A file picture showing a patrol ship in the waters of the Philippines in the South China Sea. EFE/EPA/FILE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

Philippines denounces presence of up to 48 Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters

Manila, Jul 7 (EFE).- The Philippines denounced on Friday the presence of up to 48 Chinese fishing boats in its territorial waters in the South China Sea, around a reef also claimed by Beijing and close to an area believed to have large underwater reserves of oil and gas.

“As many as 48 Chinese fishing vessels were recently spotted in Iroquois Reef,” the Armed Forces of Philippines’ Western Command said in a statement, calling it “alarming” and a “potential threat” to Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal.

The Iroquois Reef, is located about 148 nautical miles off the western coast of Palawan, within the 200-mile limit established by the UN to determine the maritime sovereignty of states, and a convention to which China has been a party since 1996.

However, Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea on “historical” grounds and has territorial disputes with several countries – including the Philippines – over the sovereignty of several islands and atolls in the region.

The latest denouncement by the Philippine forces represents a fresh scuffle between Manila and Beijing over sovereignty of these disputed waters, escalating tensions in the area.

On Wednesday, the Philippine Coast Guard reported “dangerous maneuvers” by Chinese ships during a refueling mission around Ayungin Atoll, another island disputed between Manila and Beijing.

The following day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused the Philippines vessels of entering the waters of the Ren’ai Reef – as China calls Ayungin -, about 105 miles off the west coast of the Philippines, without its permission.

Starting in September this year, the United States and the Philippines will jointly patrol disputed islands in the South China Sea, according to an announcement in February by the Philippine ambassador to Washington. EFE