The Philippines expressed “concern” after spotting what it said were Chinese fishing vessels at a reef claimed by it and China, and could file a diplomatic protest on the presence of the boats.

About 220 Chinese vessels were seen moored in line at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea on March 7, a government task force overseeing the disputed seas said in a statement on Saturday.

The area, which the Southeast Asian nation calls Juan Felipe, is a large but shallow boomerang-shaped coral reef within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the task force said. The vessels’ presence is “a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safety of navigation,” it said.

Both China and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. In January, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China’s law giving its coast guard freedom to fire on foreign vessels.

A protest over the 220 vessels may be lodged if Philippine military generals recommend it, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a Twitter post on Sunday. – Bloomberg