A Chinese naval frigate that ran aground close to Philippine shores while patrolling disputed waters in the South China Sea was refloated on Sunday, the Chinese embassy said. The stranding occurred Wednesday in a shoal which sits just 60 nautical miles from the western Philippine island of Palawan, within the country's exclusive economic zone, in an area believed to be rich in mineral deposits. "The grounded frigate near Nansha's Half Moon Shoal was refloated successfully, with minor damage in the stem part," the embassy said in a statement posted on its website. International law defines a country's exclusive economic zone as being up to 200-nautical-miles from its shores. The statement said China's defence ministry reported that the ship was refloated before daybreak Sunday, and that all its personnel were safe. "Now the preparation for return to the port is underway. No contamination has been caused in the incident area," it said. The ship was on "routine patrol" when it became stranded Wednesday evening, according to the Chinese government. The shoal, locally called Hasa Hasa, is part of the the Spratly Islands -- which the Chinese call Nansha -- a string of atolls and islands straddling vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea believed sitting atop vast mineral deposits. Apart from the Philippines and China, the Spratlys are claimed in whole or in part by rival Taiwan and the other Southeast Asian countries of Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. Overlapping claims to the islands have perennially caused tensions among the claimants, with the Philippines and Vietnam recently accusing China of increasingly becoming aggressive in staking its claims. The dispute also marred an annual meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers held in Cambodia last week, where Manila's chief diplomat accused China of "duplicity" and intimidation. The dispute divided the grouping, with host Cambodia siding with China, thus preventing them from issuing a customary joint statement that summarises achievements and concerns.
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