(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines has allowed civilians to sail in the South China Sea and is planning more joint patrols in the area amid a dispute with China. 

“Many countries” have expressed interest to join the Southeast Asian nation in patrolling contested waters after similar activities with the US and Australia, National Security Council Assistant Director Jonathan Malaya said at a forum Tuesday. He did not specify which countries are seeking patrols with the Philippines.

The council is also coordinating with civilian organizations planning to deploy some 40 ships in the disputed sea for a “Christmas convoy” to deliver goods to soldiers and fisherfolk next month. “There are some logistical issues that have to be resolved,” Malaya said.

The civilian sail will go to the vicinity of Second Thomas Shoal — the site of recent tense encounters among Chinese and Philippine vessels — “as far as practicable,” the security official said. The sail’s organizers were advised against going inside the shoal and boarding the ship that serves as the Philippines’ military outpost in the disputed sea, he added.

The Philippines under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has stepped up efforts to assert its claims in the South China Sea, repeatedly protesting alleged harassment by Chinese vessels in the area. China has maintained its maritime actions were lawful and professional.

Amid the maritime dispute, Marcos has also bolstered the Philippines’ longstanding defense alliance with the US, expanding America’s access to military bases and recently resuming South China Sea patrols. Australia also launched similar patrols with the Philippines over the weekend. 

Manila is also working closely with Japan for a reciprocal access agreement, Malaya said Tuesday. The potential pact was also tackled during Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Manila visit earlier this month. 

(Adds more details from security official throughout.)

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