Chinese captain claims fired on by Philippines: Xinhua

BEIJING (AFP) - The skipper of a Chinese fishing boat claimed on Thursday that his vessel was shot at by Philippine police as 11 fishermen aboard another were seized, state media reported.

"They rushed toward us in a boat and fired at us," He Junting, captain of the Qiongqionghai 03168, said of Tuesday's events, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Philippine National Police official Noel Vargas denied the accusation, telling reporters: "I don't know where they got their information.

"As far as the PNP (Philippine National Police) side is concerned, we did not fire any shots." The allegation and denial came after Philippine police arrested the 11 fishermen in the South China Sea and impounded their ship as part of what Manila calls efforts to protect its resources and enforce its laws.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the shores of its neighbours, raising tensions in the strategically vital area.

Separately, Vietnam on Wednesday said that Chinese ships protecting a deep-water drilling rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea had used water cannon to attack Vietnamese patrol vessels and repeatedly rammed them, injuring six people.

Tensions between the Communist neighbours have risen sharply since Beijing unilaterally announced last week it would move the deep-water drilling rig into disputed waters - a move the United States has described as "provocative".

Xinhua identified the vessel seized by the Philippine police as the Qiongqionghai 09063.

Captain He said his boat was nearby and he took evasive action after seeing the armed Philippine vessel.

The Chinese embassy in Manila on Thursday demanded the immediate release of the boat and its crew, while Philippine authorities brushed it off.

Philippine police said the arrests were made near Half Moon Shoal, 106km west of the major Philippine island of Palawan, in waters which Manila has exclusive rights to exploit under international law.

The Philippines in March filed a formal plea to the United Nations challenging Beijing's territorial claim, in defiance of Chinese warnings that it would seriously damage their already frayed relations.

Beijing has rejected UN arbitration and urged Manila to settle the dispute through bilateral talks instead.

Half Moon Shoal is a bare outcrop on the eastern edge of the Spratlys, a South China Sea chain that sits near key sea lanes and atop what are believed could be vast oil and gas deposits.

In Tuesday's operation, Filipino police said five local fishermen on a smaller boat were also detained, suspected of helping the 11 others to illegally catch hundreds of turtles protected by Philippine environmental laws.

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