HONG KONG (AP) – Japanese patrol vessels fired water cannon Sunday at a boat carrying Chinese activists who were protesting Japanese claims to territory in the East China Sea, the activist group said.

A boat carrying the protesters arrived near the five disputed islets – known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and Senkaku in Japan – on Sunday evening, according to the activists’ group, the Hong Kong-registered China Federation of Defending Diaoyu Islands.

The activists’ spokesman in Beijing, Li Nan, said the boat came to within eight miles of Diaoyu Island.

“The Japanese used water cannon to disperse the boat to around 12 nautical miles (13 miles) away. They are now standing off in the waters,” Li told The Associated Press.

The dispute over the islets, which lie between Taiwan and Okinawa, is one of many that have strained ties between Japan and China. The island chain is surrounded by fishing grounds and is regularly occupied by nationalists of both sides.

Japan seized the islands in 1895 when it colonized Taiwan.

It was not immediately known if anyone on board was injured, Li added.

He said the four protesters – who sailed from a port near Xiamen, southern China, on Friday – telephoned the activist group in Beijing when they neared the disputed islets Sunday evening.

Li said he thought the protesters would wait for a chance to land on one of the disputed islands.

Japanese officials said Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels first spotted the boat Sunday evening.

Japan Coast Guard official Takashi Matsumori could not immediately confirm if the patrol vessels had used water cannon against the boat. The activist group did not say if Coast Guard patrol boats fired the water cannon.

Japan lodged a protest with China through diplomatic channels Sunday following the incident.

, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The activists’ boat, carrying a Chinese flag, entered the disputed waters prompting the patrol vessels to issue warnings, coast guard official Satoshi Matsuyama said.

The boat left the disputed waters about an hour later and was traveling westward, the official said.

Coast guard vessels were patrolling the area so that the boat would not re-enter the disputed waters, according to Matsuyama.

Tokyo told Beijing that the islands “are no doubt our territory historically and according to international law,” according to the ministry. The ministry said China responded by saying that Japan’s protest was “not acceptable.”

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