THE Philippines released pictures yesterday showing what it claimed were Chinese vessels and substantial Chinese-built structures on the part of the Spratly Islands claimed by Manila. Defence chief Renato de Villa said aerial photographs showed the Chinese flag flying over four apparently permanent structures in the area known as Mischief Shoal. However, China denies its navy has intruded into territory claimed by the Philippines in the disputed Spratly Islands, located in the South China Sea. 'No Chinese warships are at or around the reef,' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Chen Jian. Asked if there was danger of a military confrontation between Manila and Beijing in the area, Mr de Villa said: 'At the moment, we are not looking towards that direction.' He could not say what the structures were being used for, but China said earlier they protected fishermen operating in the islands some 130 nautical miles west of Palawan, the main Philippine island in the southwestern region. 'All of these four structures that we have discovered are flying the PRC [People's Republic of China] flag,' Mr de Villa said. 'There are three large ships and five smaller ships in the area plus some small boats and they are in the middle of construction [of the dwellings] right now.' Mr de Villa, showing blurred photographs taken from a distance, said the Chinese ships were of the Dashi and Yukan classes. 'We are not saying that these are military ships or naval ships at the moment. We're just saying that these are PRC ships, large and small.' The authoritative reference work, Jane's Fighting Ships says Yukan-class ships are 1,200-tonne support vessels capable of carrying about 200 troops or 10 tanks. They are armed with 57-millimetre and 25 mm machine-guns. A photograph of one of the structures showed a central core surrounded by five eight-sided buildings, constructed on stilts above Mischief Shoal, which is submerged at high tide. Another showed a smaller platform with two or three similar buildings and what looked like a helipad. Mr de Villa said the structures were similar to facilities China had built on other disputed islands in the Spratlys which its forces had occupied. He said the area occupied by the Chinese was well within the Philippines' 320-kilometre exclusive economic zone. China has aggressively pursued its claim to the entire chain of islands and reefs. The Spratlys may be rich in oil and are regarded as one of the most serious potential flashpoints in Asia. A captain of a Filipino fishing boat first broke the news of the Chinese presence in the area last month when he told the Coast Guard the Chinese had detained him and his crew for several days, warning him not to report what he saw. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday the facilities at what China referred to as the Meijijiao coral reef were 'aimed at ensuring the safety and lives of Chinese fishermen and their production operations in the region'.