China navy ship 'stranded' in disputed waters

A handout photo shows two Chinese surveillance ships which sailed between a Philippines warship and eight Chinese fishing boats to prevent the arrest of any fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal in this April 10, 2012 file photo.

BEIJING - A Chinese naval frigate has run aground while patrolling disputed waters in the South China Sea, the defence ministry said Friday, amid tensions with the Philippines over territorial claims.

The ship was on "routine patrol" when it became stranded near Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands on Wednesday evening, the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

The shoal is off the Philippine island of Palawan.

No one was injured or killed in the accident and the navy was now organising a rescue, the statement said, but gave no further details.

The Philippines said it was trying to confirm the reports and would offer assistance to any vessel in distress.

"We have to find out why that ship was there, why it ran aground, whether it was an accident or whatever," Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters.

"If we have to offer assistance to help them get out of that place, we will assist them," he added.

The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday quoted Western diplomatic sources as saying the frigate, which has been discouraging fishing boats from the Philippines from entering the area, was "thoroughly stuck".

China says it has sovereign rights to all the South China Sea, believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits, including areas close to the coastlines of other countries and hundreds of kilometres (miles) from its own landmass.

But Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines also claim parts of the South China Sea.

The Spratlys are one of the biggest island chains in the area.

The rival claims have long made the South China Sea one of Asia's potential military flashpoints, and tensions have escalated over the past year.

The Philippines and Vietnam have complained China is becoming increasingly aggressive in its actions in the area, such as harassing fishermen, and also through bullying diplomatic tactics.

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