MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines said on Wednesday that a Chinese coast guard ship had rammed three Philippine fishing boats in the disputed Scarborough Shoal area of the South China Sea last week and Manila had protested to Beijing over the incident.
China seized control of the area after a three-month stand-off with the Philippine coast guard in 2012. Beijing lays claim the entire South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas deposits.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim areas of the sea where about $5 trillion ship-borne trade passes every year. All states except Brunei have a military presence in the disputed areas.
"The Philippines strongly protested China’s continuing actions to harass and prevent Filipino fishermen from legitimately pursuing their livelihood in that area," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Manila government handed over two protest notes to the Chinese Embassy in Manila, foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose said. Calls to the Chinese Embassy seeking comment on the protests went unanswered.
Jose said the first protest was over the "intentional" ramming of three local fishing boats by a Chinese coast guard ship on Thursday, which had damaged the vessels and put the lives of fishermen at risk.
Manila had also protested over the collection of giant clams in the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal by 24 Chinese utility boats on Jan. 22, Jose said.
"The Philippines strongly protested this destructive and illegal activity," he said, as a violation of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Philippines coast guard officials said this was the most serious incident involving Chinese ships and local fishing boats. Last year, the Chinese coast guard ship fired water cannon at Filipino fishing boats in the same area.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Mark Heinrich