Philippine fishermen accuse China of firing on vessel

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MANILA: A group of Filipino fishermen have accused China's coast guard of shooting at their vessel in disputed South China Sea waters.

Philippine officials said they were investigating the reported attack on the Princess Johann boat, which the crew said occurred near a Chinese-occupied section of the Spratly archipelago on March 27.

There were no casualties, authorities added. "(The Princess Johann) was reportedly fired upon seven times by a Chinese speedboat with seven Chinese coast guards on board," said the Philippine Coast Guard.

The armed speedboat approached the Filipino vessel after it dropped anchor about 3.7km off the Chinese side of the Union Banks atoll, it said. "The crew hid and eventually cut their anchor line and fled the area," the statement added.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it could not comment until facts are ascertained.

In a separate development, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana flew to a disputed South China Sea island yesterday. "This is just a normal visit within our territory, which we believe and we know is (our) territory," the minister told reporters.

Mr Lorenzana said construction would start "within the next few weeks" for a quay on Thitu where construction materials will be landed for repairs on an existing airstrip on the largest of nine Philippine-garrisoned outcrops in the Spratly archipelago.

As the military transport plane bearing Mr Lorenzana and local officials of Palawan island prepared to land, the pilots received a warning from Chinese forces on Subi that the aircraft was illegally entering Chinese territory, a routine for all Philippine aircraft landing on the Thitu airstrip since China reclaimed Subi.

Mr Lorenzana said his pilots disregarded the warning.

"That's their protocol. That's procedural. We reply that we are flying over Philippine territory." - AFP

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