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China ship 'accidentally rams' Philippines boat; 1 dead, 4 missing

MANILA -- The Philippines alleged on Sunday that a Chinese vessel accidentally rammed a local fishing boat north of a disputed South China Sea shoal, killing one and leaving four others missing.

The fishing boat set out from the northern coastal town of Bolinao, in Pangasinan province, last Monday and was reported to have sunk two days later, Office of Civil Defense chief Benito Ramos told AFP.

“Of the eight fishermen aboard, four were plucked out of sea only yesterday, but one of them died in a hospital,” Ramos said. “Four more are still missing.”

The rescued fishermen told authorities they believed the vessel which collided with their boat was Chinese, Ramos said, though this could not be independently verified.

Chinese embassy officials were not available for comment on Sunday.

Ramos said the incident occurred north of Scarborough Shoal where the Philippines and China have been engaged in a tense stand off since April.

“It's north of the Scarborough, though we could not determine how far in terms of distance or nautical miles,” he said.

President Benigno Aquino earlier this month ordered two Philippine ships to pull out from the shoal during bad weather, a move that the Chinese said calmed tensions in the area.

While China said it would also ask its fishermen to leave the area, it stressed it had no intention of pulling out its bigger ships from there.

As of last week, there were still seven Chinese ships at the shoal, according to the Philippines foreign ministry.

The dispute began in April after Chinese government vessels blocked Philippine ships from arresting Chinese fishermen near the shoal.

Since then, both countries have maintained ships there to press their respective claims to the area. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries.

The shoal sits about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the Philippines' main island of Luzon. The nearest major Chinese landmass is 1,200 kilometers northwest of the shoal, according to Philippine Navy maps.

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