Philippines seizes five fishing vessels

MANILA • Philippine anti-poaching patrols have detained two Chinese ships and three Vietnamese fishing vessels, along with more than three dozen crew members.

The arrests in the extreme north of the country, near tiny islands off the main island of Luzon, came as a maritime dispute between Manila and Beijing simmers in the South China Sea.

Two Chinese fishing vessels, allegedly flying the Philippine flag upside down, were detained along with their 25 crew members off the island of Sabtang on Monday, coastguard and fisheries officials said.

"The presumption in these types of cases is that they are here to commit illegal fishing," said Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director James Asis Perez.

The vessels were escorted to the port of Basco and the crews held on board. So far, no charges have been filed against the Chinese.

Speaking at a regular press briefing in Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he had no information and needed to further understand the situation.

The Philippines is in dispute with China over its expansive claims to most of the South China Sea.

Mr Perez said the bureau and the coastguard had also arrested 18 Vietnamese fishermen on three boats for illegally fishing in Philippine waters last week.

He said the authorities have asked state prosecutors to file illegal fishing charges against the Vietnamese, who were detained last Thursday off Calayan island, 122 km south of Sabtang. Poaching carries a fine of up to US$1 million (S$1.4 million)under Philippine law.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines seizes five fishing vessels'. Print Edition | Subscribe