MANILA, Philippines — The collision between a Chinese cargo vessel and a Philippine fishing boat has nothing to do with Beijing's expansive claims over the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines' top diplomat said Wednesday.
Search and rescue operations are still ongoing for the 14 missing Filipinos aboard FV Liberty 5 after their boat collided with Hong Kong-flagged MV Vienna Wood in the waters of Occidental Mindoro over the weekend.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippine government has yet to determine whether there is negligence on the part of the Chinese bulk carrier.
"In that respect it has nothing to do with the South China Sea. Whether or not China was there a fishing boat could have been hit by a commercial vessel, especially one that large," Locsin said at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay online forum.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Dodo Dulay further noted that the incident off the coast of Occidental Mindoro was far away from the West Philippine Sea, the portion of the South China Sea within Philippine exclusive economic zone.
Dulay said in the same online forum that the maritime incident happened within Philippine territory.
"This is no different from any other incident involving vessels within our territory," Dulay said.
Dulay added that the work now rests on the Department of Transportation to investigate whether there was a breach of protocol as mariners are obligated to report such incident.
Initial investigation from the Philippine Coast Guard showed that the Chinese vessel sent a distress call three hours after the collision last Saturday.
"We have to emphasize that because this is being politicized, they are making this about the West Philippine Sea but this is Mindoro. This has no difference with two Philippine-owned vessels that collided with each other," Dulay said.
These remarks from the DFA officials echo the sentiments of the Chinese Embassy in Manila that priority should be given to the rescue of missing crew members and passengers while investigations are ongoing.
"Pending the investigation, we hope all parties refrain from politicalizing the issue and seeking narrow interests from such a humanitarian tragedy," the Chinese Embassy said in a statement Tuesday.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros called the maritime incident a hit-and-run and called on the government not to downplay the incident.
Citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the opposition senator said ships must render assistance to the other ship and its crew and passengers after a collision.
"What happened was that they collided with our countrymen and left them there with no mercy," Hontiveros said.
Around this time last year, a Chinese vessel rammed into and sank a Philippine fishing boat near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea. The Chinese ship immediately left the scene after the allision and left the 22 crew members of FV Gem-Ver 1 floating at sea for hours before being rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.
President Rodrigo Duterte downplayed the incident as a "little maritime accident", similar to the remarks of the Chinese foreign ministry that it was just "an ordinary maritime traffic accident."
The Philippine Coast Guard deploys two aerial assets for aerial search at the vicinity waters of Occidental Mindoro for 14 missing Filipinos.
The coast guard activates the mission to rescue 12 missing fishermen and two passengers aboard fishing vessel FV Liberty 5, which collided with Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship MV Vienna Wood early Sunday.
"MV Vienna Wood departed from Subic, Zambales going to Australia, while FV Liberty 5 departed from Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi going to Navotas Fish Port, Metro Manila when the maritime incident occurred," the PCG says.
Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya says the initial report of the Philippine Coast Guard is enough to sue Hong Kong-flagged MV Vienna Wood.
Initial report from the coast guard revealed that the Chinese cargo vessel did not make any effort to rescue the 12 fishermen and two passengers who went missing after the boat collision.
"The PCG report says it all; despite the ship being in compliant with the navigational standards and capable of rescuing the 14 fishing crews, they left the helpless fishers to uncertainties," Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap says.
Vice Admiral George Ursabia Jr., commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), says initial investigation showed that poor visibility in the area and poor sea condition due to strong southwest monsoon or habagat caused the maritime incident between MV Vienna Wood and FV Liberty 5.
The PCG, however, is also looking into other factors such as incompetence of the crew of the offending vessel, especially the one on watch at the time.
According to Ursabia, MV Vienna Wood stopped and remained in the area after the collision but did nit deploy a small boat to provide assistance to the 14 Filipinos aboard the capsized fishing boat.
Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) call for justice for the 12 Filipino fishermen and two passengers after a Hong Kong-flagged cargo vessel collided into their fishing vessel early Sunday.
Pamalakaya condemned the collision in the country's territorial waters, comparing the incident to the ramming and sinking of fishing boat Gem-Ver by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank last year.
"We call on the authorities to expedite the search and rescue operations for the missing fishing crew and as much as possible, must be returned to their families safe. Moreover, the Chinese cargo ship should be held accountable for endangering the lives of our fisherfolks," Pamalakaya says in a statement.
JUST IN — Fishers call for justice for Filipino fishing crew that went and remain missing after a Chinese cargo ship rammed their fishing vessel at around 1am yesterday. #ChinaLayaspic.twitter.com/GcgfsikZ3d
— Pamalakaya Pilipinas (@pama_pil) June 29, 2020
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