Philippines protests sinking of boat in disputed waters

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Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will recommend Manila the filing of a strongly worded diplomatic protest after a fishing boat that was hit in the disputed South China Sea by a suspected Chinese vessel that also abandoned the 22 Filipino fishermen onboard as their boat sank.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the suspected Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew", Lorenzana said in a statement. Its 22 crewmen were left at sea, but later saved by a passing vessel from Vietnam.

The Philippines' foreign secretary has curtly dismissed calls for worldwide help in resolving a spat over the alleged sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese ship.

The Philippines and China have always been involved in a maritime dispute over territories in the West Philippine Sea.

Panelo also thanked the crew of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity which he said brought the Filipinos to safety.

Philippines' Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. arrives for a Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) at the European Council in Brussels on October 18, 2018.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo called on Chinese authorities Thursday to impose sanctions on those involved, but did not remark on whether the collision was intentional.

He said the F/B Gimver 1 had been anchored "when it was hit by the Chinese fishing vessel", indicating the Filipino fishing boat may have been rammed.

Panelo said, the Chinese crew should have at least saved the Filipino crewmen even despite the existing territorial dispute between China and the Philippines. "This is our fight and in the end ours alone", he said on Twitter, in response to a tweet calling for a multilateral approach.

There has been a recent history of Chinese ships blocking Philippine military and civilian vessels at Reed Bank and nearby Second Thomas Shoal, where Philippine marines keep watch on board a long-marooned Philippine navy ship while being constantly watched by Chinese coast guard ships in a years-long standoff.

As their boat sank, the Filipino fishermen scrambled to smaller boats and were eventually picked up by a Vietnamese fishing boat and then transferred to a Philippine navy ship, Lorenzana said.

Manila has been quiet over South China Sea issues with President Rodrigo Duterte anxious about jeopardising economic deals with Beijing.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment on the incident.

Recto Bay is just 93 miles from the Palawan Islands, a popular Philippine tourist destination and within the exclusive economic zone of the nation.

But the president has been observed to be less firm with China, repeatedly stressing that the Philippines can not afford a war over the maritime dispute. The Philippines has suspended oil and gas exploration in the area due to past Chinese protests. Meanwhile, China rejects the arbitral ruling and continues to claim virtually the entire South China Sea.

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