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Chinese boat skipper killed in Palawan clash


The skipper of a Chinese fishing boat was killed and seven of his crew members
were arrested following a clash with the Philippine Coast Guard, police said
yesterday.


It marked the first time that a fatal firefight erupted between a Philippine
coastal patrol and alleged illegal Chinese fishermen.


Local fishermen reported to police and the Coast Guard that they saw a boat
early Friday catching turtles off the coast of Barangay Ibaan in Rizal,
Palawan, provincial police chief Jose Balane said.


As a team of Coast Guard, police and volunteer civilian coastal watchers in a
boat approached to investigate, the Chinese vessel Liang-Liang Hai sped
away, Balane said.


The pursuers were then forced to fire warning shots.

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Instead of surrendering, the Chinese crew allegedly fired at the government
team, which fired back, killing the captain. The seven other crew members were
arrested, he said. The captain has yet to be identified.


Regional police chief Lucas Managuelod said dried turtle meat and six live
turtles, considered endangered species, were seized from the Chinese fishermen.


Blasting caps were likewise found on the boat, which was towed to Puerto
Princesa City.


No guns were found on the vessel, but police suspect the fishermen had thrown
their weapons into the water before surrendering to the Coast Guard.


Managuelod said the Chinese fishermen will be charged with illegal entry into
Philippine waters, poaching and catching endangered species.


The area is close to the disputed Spratly Islands, which are claimed by the
Philippines, Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.


Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said the scene of the incident was not within
the disputed area.


"It was a mere fishing intrusion," Mercado said. "The scene of the incident was
well within our territorial waters. "


Manila-Beijing ties have been strained over the potentially explosive
territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Manila says Beijing is trying to
encroach on territory it has claimed in the Spratly Islands and Scarborough
Shoal.


However, the two governments recently signed a joint statement during President
Estrada's visit to China in which they agreed to work out disputes in the
Spratlys through friendly consultation.


They also agreed to avoid actions that might complicate matters or escalate
tensions.


Last year, at least two Chinese fishing boats were accidentally sunk by
Philippine Navy patrol boats that chased them away from the disputed
Scarborough Shoal north of the Spratlys.


Chinese fishermen have previously been arrested by Philippine authorities for
fishing in Palawan waters. In most cases, the fishermen have had their
sentences waived and have been freed early with a fine as result of pressure
from China.


In the latest dispute of the long-running saga in the South China Sea, four
Chinese fishing and cargo vessels dropped anchor earlier in March near
Scarborough Shoal.


Last month, a Philippine Navy patrol ship confiscated coral and explosives from
a Chinese fishing vessel near the shoal.

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