A SENIOR international maritime official in London has raised fears that China could be trying to take over the whole South China Sea with a new campaign of interceptions of merchant shipping. International Maritime Bureau director Eric Ellen told the Post last night that governments could no longer hide behind the legal definition of piracy to ignore raising interceptions with China. ''Are these attacks being officially sponsored by the Chinese in a bid . . . to take control of the South China Seas? Or are they work of a bunch of renegades or armed forces, working simply for profit, without the authority of their government?'' Mr Ellen said. ''At the moment it could be either; governments must start doing what they can to find out. ''Whatever the answer is, it has to be said that these actions do not have a legal basis. ''The ships are attacked in international waters, no judicial procedures are being used and where fines have been imposed, there is no justification for them and, more importantly, no authorisation.'' Mr Ellen said he had receipts following the seizure of cigarette carrier Alicia Star - highlighted recently in the Post - which Chinese diplomatic sources told him had no official status. The ship was seized by Chinese officials near the Philippines under suspicion of smuggling and later held for three weeks in Shanwei, just east of Hong Kong, where its cargo was taken by officials. ''Reports from the vessels attacked repeatedly speak of men in uniforms carrying weapons and boats with what look like Chinese markings flying a red flag,'' Mr Ellen said. ''The international shipping community cannot stand by and let this continue. There is too much at stake. Yet, at the moment, this is exactly what is happening.'' The statement from the IMB, a UN-recognised maritime safety body funded by international Chambers of Commerce, follows a Post report on Monday which revealed five attacks this year after a four-month lull. Security Branch, Marine Department and local shipping industry officials could not be contacted for comment last night. Deputy Secretary of Security Jim Morris this week stood behind international legal advice used by the Government to hold back reports on interceptions by China from a UN maritime safety meeting last year, which said they could not be classed as piracy.