The Philippine government has seized a Chinese fishing boat and its 11 crewmen on charges of catching endangered sea turtles in disputed South China Sea waters, prompting China to demand their release.

The boat was loaded with more than 350 endangered turtles when it was seized on Tuesday near territory known as Half Moon Shoal, Philippine maritime authorities said.

China demanded on Wednesday said that the Philippines release the boat. A spokesman for Hua Chunying, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, urged the Philippine government to "stop taking further provocative actions".

China earlier said via state media that Chinese officials lost contact with 11 fishermen after they were intercepted by armed men near Half Moon Shoal.

The shoal, called Hasa Hasa in the Philippines, is claimed by China as part of the Nansha island chain, known internationally as the Spratly Islands.

The Spratlys are a major cluster of islands and reefs long disputed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia,
Vietnam and Brunei. 

China lays claim to virtually the entire South China Sea and is locked in an increasingly heated dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam and others over rights to energy resources, fishing grounds and island outposts.

Philippine police said the Chinese boat would be taken to the western province of Palawan, about 110km from Half Moon Shoal, and the fishermen will face charges of violating Philippine laws prohibiting catches of endangered green sea turtles.

Another boat with Philippine fishermen was also caught in the area with 70 turtles aboard, and those fishermen will face the same charges, Vargas said.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, said the Chinese fishermen's vessel was intercepted on Tuesday by armed men who fired warning shots in the air.

Source: AP