MANILA — Three Filipino fishermen died after their fishing boat was rammed by a still unidentified foreign commercial vessel while crossing the South China Sea, the Philippine coastguard said on Wednesday.
The incident occurred on Monday while the boat was transiting waters 85 nautical miles (157 km) northwest of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, it said in a statement. Eleven crew members survived after the boat sank.
Tensions around those waters have recently flared up after the Philippines said it removed a 300-meter-long ball-buoy barrier installed by China’s coastguard near the Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing spot and one of Asia’s most contested maritime features.
The strategic shoal, named after a British cargo vessel that ran aground on the atoll in the 18th century, was seized in 2012 by China, which has maintained a constant presence of coastguard and fishing trawlers there ever since.
China has rejected the Philippine version of events over the barrier, while the United States has weighed in with support behind Manila and vowed to honor its treaty commitments to defend its treaty ally if attacked.
The Philippine coastguard did not elaborate on the incident or provide details of the vessel it said had rammed the Filipino crew.
– Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty