Philippine navy personnel, seen here on board of its flagship naval vessel, the Gregorio Del Pilar
Chinese fishing boats involved in a standoff with the Philippines have left a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, leaving just one of Beijing's ships in the area, according to Philippine officials.
Eight fishing boats along with a Chinese maritime surveillance ship left the disputed Scarborough Shoal on Friday, leaving only one Chinese maritime vessel at the site, said Foreign Affairs spokesman, Raul Hernandez.
"All the eight Chinese fishing boats have already left and as of last night, there was only one Chinese (civilian government) vessel there," he told AFP.
Hernandez said the departure of the Chinese boats was not part of any agreement with China and that the two countries were still trying to settle the standoff through diplomatic channels.
The head of Philippine military forces in the area, Lieutenant General Anthony Alcantara told radio station DZBB that a Philippine coast guard ship, sent to watch the Chinese vessels, also remained at the shoal, about 230 kilometres (140 miles) west of the country's main island of Luzon.
The crisis started on Sunday when the Philippines found the eight Chinese fishing boats in the area, which the Philippines claims as its territory.
A Philippine navy warship was preparing to arrest the Chinese fishermen for poaching but China dispatched three civilian vessels to take turns blocking the Philippine ship.
A Philippine coast guard ship later replaced the navy ship but on Friday, it was reported that three of the eight Chinese fishing boats had left the shoal. A day later, all eight were found to have fled.
The Philippines says the shoal is in its territory, well within the country's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as recognised by international law.
However China has insisted the shoal is Chinese territory as part of its claim to all of the South China Sea, even waters up to the coasts of other countries.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim all or parts of the waters as their own.
The Philippines and Vietnam complained last year of increasingly aggressive acts by China in staking its claim to the South China Sea.
However this week's standoff is the highest-profile in recent years.