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Sailors accused of drilling drills on reefs in disputed South China Sea waters
Philippines accuses Chinese Coast Guard of firing water cannons on its supply boats
Philippine security forces have accused the Chinese Coast Guard of firing water cannons at the Philippine vessels leading a supply mission to the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
Tensions rose over the past week as the group had been returning from a project to construct a base for fishing boats in the shoal, which is part of what Manila calls its continental shelf.
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The reef is home to large dugongs and dozens of the marine mammals that can grow up to 3m long, but is surrounded by rich fishing grounds claimed by China and other states.
Philippine coast guard spokeswoman Enoch Sablan said the fishermen were carrying out normal activity while acting on orders from the armed forces when their small, Chinese-made fishing vessel was hit by a water cannon.
Sablan said the impact caused the vessel to roll backwards and it sank, and six Filipinos were rescued by another vessel.
She said the incident took place on Tuesday but footage of the incident obtained by Reuters on Thursday showed a battered and rickety fishing boat by the reef.
“A Chinese vessel fired water cannons on the Philippines Coast Guard Supply Vessel deploying for support to another [Philippine] Coast Guard Supply Vessel deployed for to support the Haiyan Haven [patrol boat]”, Sablan said.
It was the latest incident in the disputed waters.
On Saturday, China’s Foreign Ministry called on the Philippines to “uphold good faith and withdraw its illegal behaviour” after the boats from both sides were involved in a brief skirmish.
Last week China’s foreign ministry ordered its foreign embassy in Manila to issue a protest to the Philippines over the incident.
Last month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called for restraint from the Philippines in the face of its islands and reefs being “covered in a thick, dark cloud of encroachment”.
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The Scarborough Shoal is part of what Manila calls its continental shelf, claimed by both China and Taiwan. Vietnam also claims the shoal, and the tiny islands in the area known as Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal.
The shoal is located in waters where China has built a number of man-made islands over the past two years that also have ports, airstrips and military installations.
The last time the two sides had a similar confrontational skirmish was in 2012 when Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons and blocked Philippine ships from resupplying their besieged marines on the disputed reef.
However, in February 2013 the two countries signed a deal for the Philippines to construct a fishing and research base on the shoal.