(UPDATE) Philippine and Chinese military ships were engaged in a "stand off" off the coast of Zambales, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.
DFA said that on Tuesday, a team from BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, a former U.S. military ship, found "large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks" in one of the Chinese military ships seen in the area.
"The BRP Gregorio Del Pilar later reported that two Chinese maritime surveillance ships identified as Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84 managed to sail at the mouth of the Shoal, placing themselves between PF-15 and the eight Chinese fishing vessels, thus preventing the arrest of the erring Chinese fishermen," DFA said.
The Chinese government, however, insisted that the Philippine navy vessels were harassing "Chinese fishing boats."
"The Chinese side has lodged solemn representations to the Philippine side over the harassment of Chinese fishing boats and fishermen by the Philippine Navy vessels and patrol boats," a statement from the Chinese embassy said.
"The attempt by the Philippines to carry out so-called law enforcement activities in the waters of Huangyan Island has infringed upon China's sovereignty, and runs counter to the concensus reached by both sides on maintaining the peace and stability in the South China Sea and not to complicate and escalate the situation," the statement from the Chinese embassy added.
Earlier on Sunday, a Philippine Navy surveillance aircraft spotted eight Chinese fishing vessels inside Panatag Shoal. BRP Gregorio del Pilar was then dispatched from Palawan to confirm the sighting and "assert Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights over the area as a responsible coastal state."
The DFA said Panatag Shoal, 124 nautical miles off of Zambales province, is within the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf of the Philippines.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario already reached out to Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing to seek for a diplomatic solution, amid other territorial disputes involving the West Philippine Sea.
Ma had been also invited to come to the DFA Wednesday morning "for further discussion," the DFA said in a statement.
The Chinese embassy said that government has sent out public service ships to Huangyan Island.
"At the moment the Chinese fishermen and their boats are safe," it said.
The Chinese government stressed that the "Huangyan Island is an integral part of the Chinese territory, over which China has indisputable sovereignty."
"We urge the Philippine side to proceed from the overall situation of the China-Philippines relations and the peace and stability of the South China Sea, not to instigate new troubles and incidents, and make joint efforts with the Chinese side to create favorable conditions for the sound development of relations between the two countries," it said.
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