A Chinese fishing vessel hit a Filipino boat in waters off the Reed Bank or Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday.
In a statement, Lorenzana denounced the Chinese vessel for leaving the scene immediately after the collision leaving the Filipino crew at sea.
"A collision between a Chinese and Filipino vessel (FB Gimber1) was reported by Filipino fishermen near the Recto Bank in the West Philippine on the evening of June 9, 2019. The collision sank the Filipino vessel," Lorenzana said.
"We denounce the actions of the Chinese fishing vessel for immediately leaving the incident scene abandoning the 22 Filipino crewmen to the mercy of the elements," he added.
Lorenzana called for a formal investigation and diplomatic measures to prevent a similar incident involving Philippine and Chinese boats.
"We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew. This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people," Lorenzana said.
"We call for the conduct of a formal investigation on the matter and for diplomatic steps be taken to prevent a repeat of this incident," he added.
Lorenzana said the crew of a Vietnamese fishing vessel, which happened to be in the area when the incident happened, came to the aid of the Filipinos.
All 22 Filipino crew were brought to safety in coordination with the Navy's BRP Ramon Alcaraz, which was conducting a routine maritime patrol in the area.
“We thank the captain and crew of Vietnamese vessel for saving the lives of the 22 Filipino crew,” Lorenzana said.
The Reed Bank or Recto Bank, which is near Palawan, is well within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
An 2016 arbitral ruling invalidated China's excessive claims in the South China Sea and upheld the Philippines' exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Chinese or Vietnamese?
Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Captain Armand Balilo said Philippine authorities were still verifying if the vessel that hit the Philippine fishing boat belonged to the Chinese.
“Tsinicheck pa namin, ‘yun ‘yung report [na Chinese vessel] pero meron naman nagsabi na Vietnamese, so tsinicheck namin lahat ng mga barkong dumaan ‘dun sa time na binigay,” Balilo said.
“Hinihintay namin yung mga fishermen na makabalik para makausap namin eh. Papano mo sabihin na Chinese di ba? Hindi pa namin alam. We are still investigating,” he added.
Balilo said a similar incident in which a Chinese vessel sank a Philippine fishing boat happened in Zambales in 2013.
He said the collision was not deliberate on the part of the Chinese. —Llanesca T. Panti/NB, GMA News