HAIKOU, April 17 (Xinhua) -- One of 12 Chinese fishing boats returned to port Saturday evening after a recent encounter with the Philippine Navy in the South China Sea.
On April 10, twelve fishing boats were harassed by a Philippine Navy gunboat while taking refuge from harsh weather in a lagoon near China's Huangyan Island. Two Chinese Marine Surveillance ships conducting routine patrols in the area later came to the fishermen's rescue.
The incident is just the latest case in a string of incidents in which Chinese fishermen have been harassed by the Philippine military, with hundreds of fishermen in south China's Hainan province having had encounters with Philippine officers.
At dawn on April 10, Xu Detan, captain of the Qiong-Qionghai 09099, a Hainan-registered fishing boat, saw a gunboat speeding into the lagoon. He then heard someone speaking in Filipino through his ship's shortwave radio and realized they couldn't run away from the Philippine Navy.
"Their gunboat blocked the entrance of the lagoon. We tried to escape, but we couldn't move. They were armed with guns and we could only wait," said Xu.
Xu said the Philippine gunboat began to search the fishing boats one by one at 6 a.m. At about 8:30 a.m., nine Philippine soldiers boarded his boat.
Xu said the soldiers turned off his ship's satellite navigation system and radio communication equipment while on board.
They asked Xu and four crew members to stand on the ship's bow and took photos of the fishermen. The photos were published online and used as evidence that the Chinese fishermen were illegally fishing.
The searches and photography didn't stop until 11 a.m., said Xu.
Almost twelve hours later, the two Chinese military vessels discovered their predicament and came to protect them from the Philippine gunship.
The crew of the Qiong-Qionghai 09099 subsequently decided to suspend their planned 50-day voyage on its 25th day.
"We came back in a rush because were were scared and wanted to go back to rest," Xu said.
Xu said it was the first time for him to encounter such a situation since beginning his fishing career 30 years ago. However, he said some of his friends have been detained by Philippine military officers multiple times.
As the captain of the boat, Xu is responsible for his crew and their safety. However, the 55-year-old captain said he wouldn't be able to withstand the suffering if he were detained by the Philippine Navy.
"I was so scared when I thought that I might not see my family again, especially my eight-month-old grandson," Xu said.
Seizures and detainments by the militaries of other countries are common for the residents of Tanmen township, located in Hainan province. Local government records indicate that Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have detained Chinese fishermen in the past.
The Philippines has detained the largest number: 265 Chinese fishermen in 14 separate incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2011.
Chen Zebo, captain of the Qiong-Qionghai 03026, another fishing boat involved in the April 10 incident, was detained twice by the Philippine Navy in 1994 and 1999, respectively.
Feng Xinyi, another fishing boat captain, was detained by the Philippine Navy with another three fishermen in 2001. They were kept on the Philippine island of Palawan for one year, during which time he said they were beaten by soldiers when they refused to sign confessions.
Local fisherman Xie Jinfang and another five fishermen have been detained by the Philippine Navy since March 24, 2011, according to Dai Yudao, a member of the Tanmen township committee.
However, some of the fishermen of Tanmen have been quick to aid fishermen from other countries when they encounter problems at sea, despite having been previously harassed by the militaries of those countries.
In December 2007, Typhoon Hagibis blew into the South China Sea. More than 10 fishing boats took shelter at Zhongye Island to ride out the storm. Qiu Guru, head of the Nansha fishermen's association in Tanmen township, said he and his crew saved and aided seven Vietnamese fishermen and 42 Philippine fishermen during the disaster.
FISHING TO LIVE
Although one of the boats involved in the April 10 incident has returned home, the other 11 boats are continuing to fish near the Xisha and Nansha islands, as the fishermen on board must ensure that they can catch enough fish to sustain their livelihoods.
Most of the fishermen living in coastal areas come from families of fishermen, having learned the craft from their parents and grandparents. For them, fishing is not simply a way to make a living, but is a life in itself.
"Our fish sell like hot cakes and are priced high. That's why we risk fishing in such far-off places," said Ke Weixiu, the owner of a fishing boat.
The fishermen have received some help from the government, with the fishery department of Tanmen installing satellite navigation systems in local fishing boats to help them verify their whereabouts.
The navigation systems allow the fishery department to warn the fishing boats if the boats cross maritime borders and enter hostile territory. Border police also check in with the boats in the morning, afternoon and evening via radio, giving the fishermen weather updates and ensuring their safety.
THE GOVERNMENT SPEAKS
On April 11, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said the actions taken by the Philippine Navy in the waters near Huangyan Island constitute an infringement of China's sovereignty and are in violation of a bilateral consensus on maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Liu called for the Philippines to avoid actions that could complicate and aggravate the situation.
Liu said Huangyan Island is an integral part of Chinese territory and that China has indisputable sovereignty over the island.
"We urge the Philippine side to take action based on our bilateral friendship, as well as peace and stability on the South China Sea. We call on them to stop creating difficulties and work with China to create good conditions for the healthy and stable development of bilateral ties," he said.