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Chinese patrol boats have forced a convoy of Philippine naval vessels to leave the disputed Scarborough Shoal area of the South China Sea, local media has reported.
No shots were fired during the incident on Sunday, which took place when seven Chinese patrol boats forced the convoy out of the shoal, which is also claimed by the Philippines, after two typhoons, according to the CNG Channel Channel 7 news network.
The Nationalist People’s party (DPP) legislator for the southern Philippines, Antonio Trillanes, said he and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte attended a meeting with the navy leadership and said it became clear the Chinese personnel had “intentionally frightened” the merchantmen.
“As the Chinese came in within a few metres, the ship shook several times and at that point the Filipinos began to drive away,” Trillanes said, adding that the Philippine navy also had radio contact with the Chinese vessels.
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Several Filipino vessels and their marines had been anchored at the shoal, which is 130 miles (210km) off the coast of Manila, until mid-December after Beijing asked Manila to leave.
Television pictures from the site showed one of the Chinese vessels did not leave and officers shouted abuse at the international sailors. Trillanes said he believed the Chinese sailors were Chinese security guards hired to protect the minefield-like shoal.
The DPP said the economy had suffered as a result of the blockade and that $80m (£63m) in investment applications were put on hold.
A Philippines navy ship and minesweepers involved in the resupply mission were still in the area at the time of the incident, Trillanes said.
A Philippine national police spokesman, Commander Josh Margali, said he did not know what triggered the Chinese vessel’s operation to remove the Philippine navy ship and other warships from the shoal but added that marine patrols were routine.
The military had complained to the Chinese embassy about the closure of the shoal but to no avail, Trillanes said.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said she was not aware of the incident.
“What matters is that China will make efforts to protect the safety of personnel and that of our shipping at all times,” Hua Chunying said.
“China’s position is clear and consistent. China resolutely opposes this kind of actions.”
Hua said the shoal was “freely occupied” by China and has been duly recognised by the international community, according to Reuters.
She said China and other countries such as the Philippines should oppose “the game of freedom of navigation in Scarborough Shoal being used as a springboard for the deployment of US warships in the South China Sea”.