Controversy on high seas

Filipino fishermen
A handout photo taken on June 14 and released on June 15 by the Philippine Coast Guard shows Filipino fishermen on board the BRP Ramon Alcaraz in Occidental Mindoro. Beijing confirmed on June 15 that a Chinese vessel hit a Philippine fishing boat in a collision which has increased tensions in the disputed South China Sea, but denied claims it was a “hit and run”. AFP PHOTO/ PHILIPPINE COASTGUARD

THE Chinese Embassy in Manila on Friday night confirmed that a Chinese vessel collided with Philippine fishing boat but claimed the captain of a Chinese ship attempted to rescue the Filipino fishermen of the sinking craft but got afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats near the Reed Bank in the West Philippine Sea on Sunday.

A statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Manila denied that the Chinese ship hit the Filipinos’ fishing vessel and then abandoned the sinking boat.

The Embassy said China’s preliminary investigation showed the Chinese fishing boat, Yuemaobinyu 42212 from Guangdong Province, China berthed at the vicinity of Reed Bank.

“It was suddenly besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats. During the evacuation, 42212 failed to shun a Filipino fishing boat, and its steel cable on the lighting grid of larboard bumped into the Filipino pilothouse,” it said.

The Filipino fishing boat tilted and its stern foundered, the statement said.

It stressed “the Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats. Therefore, having confirmed the fishermen from the Filipino boat were rescued on board of other Filipino fishing boats, 42212 sailed away from the scene.”

Thus, the Embassy said “there is no such thing as hit-and-run.”

However, the 22 fishermen told a very different story, saying they had spent hours in the water awaiting help.

They were eventually picked up by a Vietnamese boat and brought home Friday aboard a Philippine navy vessel.

The Philippine coast guard has started an investigation of the incident which Duterte’s spokesman branded as “outrageous and barbaric”.

Duterte has yet to make any public comment but he recently criticized China’s assertive stance over the sea.

The Chinese Embassy vowed to properly handle the issue with the Philippines “in a serious and responsible manner,” stressing the Chinese side “attaches great importance to China-Philippines friendship and safety of life at sea.”

“The two sides are maintaining close communication through diplomatic channels,” it noted.

Aboard the Philippine Navy vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz, the 22 fishermen of F/B GEMVIR1 arrived in Occidental Mindoro on Friday.

Captain Junel Insigne said they were anchored on June 9 when a “Chinese boat” hit them.

With AFP