MANILA >> The Philippines protested to Beijing on Wednesday after a Chinese coast guard ship allegedly rammed and damaged three Philippine fishing boats at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila also said it lodged a separate protest with Beijing over the collection of endangered giant clams by Chinese fishermen, destroying in the process coral outcrops at Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines.
The reported Jan. 29 ramming is the latest incident involving the territorial rift. In February last year, the Philippine government summoned China’s top envoy in Manila to protest what it said was the firing of a water cannon by a Chinese government vessel to drive away Filipino fishermen from Scarborough. China ignored the protest and called its sovereignty there "indisputable."
The Chinese Embassy did not issue any immediate comment on Wednesday.
"The Philippines strongly protested China’s continuing actions to harass and prevent Filipino fishermen from legitimately pursuing their livelihood in that area," the Philippine foreign department said in a statement Wednesday.
"Philippine fishing vessels have been routinely, continuously, peacefully and sustainably fishing in the Philippines’ Bajo de Masinloc," the department said, using the Filipino name for Scarborough, a rich fishing ground and storm shelter.
Department spokesman Charles Jose said the Chinese coast guard’s action damaged the bamboo outriggers of the three Philippine-flagged boats, adding that the Filipino fishermen on board were reportedly stunned but unhurt.
In a separate incident on Jan. 22, Chinese fishermen on at least 24 boats were seen collecting giant clams in Scarborough Shoal’s sprawling lagoon, the foreign affairs department said, citing a report by the Philippine coast guard.
"The Philippines strongly protested this destructive and illegal activity," it said. "The act of harvesting giant clams, which are among the most endangered marine species, entails the crushing and destruction of surrounding corals which result in the permanent destruction of the reef itself."
"China’s toleration of, and active support for, the environmentally harmful fishing practices by its nationals at Bajo de Masinloc constitute breaches of its obligations under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea" and two international conventions aimed at preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species, the department said.
China took effective control of Scarborough in 2012 after a tense standoff that ended when the Philippines withdrew two of its ships ahead of an approaching storm.
Chinese coast guard ships have also surrounded Second Thomas Shoal, another contested offshore territory where Filipino marines have manned a grounded, rusty navy ship in a standoff that started in 2013.
Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines have separately protested Chinese land reclamation at a number of reefs in the contested Spratly Islands, which they fear could be transformed into an air, naval and logistics base to reinforce Beijing’s territorial claims far from the Chinese mainland.
The Philippines asked a U.N.-backed international tribunal in The Hague last year to declare China’s seizure of Scarborough Shoal and at least seven other South China Sea reefs, and its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, illegal.
The vast sea and its chain of islands, reefs and atolls straddle some of the world’s busiest sea lanes and are believed to have vast undersea deposits of oil and gas.