New Philippine protest over sea dispute with China

Above: Photo taken by the Philippine Navy depicts Chinese surveillance ships off Scarborough Shoal.

MANILA - The Philippines said Tuesday it had filed a new protest against China in their increasingly bitter dispute over the South China Sea, this time for allegedly harassing an archaeological research boat.

The protest was over an incident at Scarborough Shoal, the same area of the sea where Chinese vessels blocked a Philippine warship from arresting the crew of eight Chinese fishing boats this month, the government said.

"We lodged the protest yesterday afternoon" with the Chinese ambassador in Manila, said Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez.

"The harassment of the vessel is part of the continued intrusion and illegal activities being done by China in our area," he told AFP.

He said the Philippine-registered M/Y Saranggani was "harassed by Chinese ships and aircraft" while on Scarborough, which is about 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the western coast of the Philippines' main island of Luzon.

Hernandez said Saranggani was manned by scientists, including nine French nationals.

No other details were available about their research and when they specifically arrived in the area, but Hernandez said the research boat was still there.

"It is doing research, which is well within our rights," Hernandez said. A spokeswoman for the French embassy in Manila said it would not give any details or comment about the case.

China claims all of the South China Sea as its own on historical grounds, even waters approaching the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.

The rival claims have been a source of regional tensions for decades, although the Philippines and Vietnam have accused China over the past year of becoming increasingly aggressive in asserting its position.

On April 8 the Philippines found the eight Chinese fishing boats at Scarborough Shoal, and deployed its warship to arrest the crew.

China quickly deployed three civilian maritime vessels that took turns in blocking the warship.

In a bid to calm the situation, the Philippines pulled back its warship and replaced it with a coast guard vessel late last week, and the fishing vessels sailed away over the weekend.

Hernandez said a lone Philippine coast guard boat now remained in the area on Tuesday, facing off with two Chinese civilian ships.

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