Three Filipino fishermen were killed when their fishing boat was rammed by a foreign commercial vessel while transiting the waters off Scarborough Shoal, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Wednesday.
The PCG said one crew member of FFB Dearyn shared that the incident happened before dawn on Monday, October 2.
The Filipino fishing boat was moored 85 nautical miles northwest of Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, when it was rammed by the foreign vessel registered under the flag of the Marshall Islands.
The boat submerged, resulting in the death of its 47-year-old captain and two crew members aged 38 and 62, the PCG said. All the fatalities are residents of Zambales province.
The PCG, in an assessment report, said the vessel that collided with local fishing boat was an oil tanker.
It added that it "will reach out to the flag of the vessel and next port to be visited by the said vessel to be boarded by the Port State Control Officers."
Will be held accountable
President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., meanwhile, ensured that those responsible for the ramming incident will be held accountable.
In a statement on Wednesday, Marcos said Philippine authorities are currently investigating the incident.
"We are deeply saddened by the deaths of the three fishermen, including the captain of the fishing vessel. The incident is still under investigation to ascertain the details and circumstances surrounding the collision between the fishing boat and a still unidentified commercial vessel," he said.
For its part, the Department of Foreign Affairs sent its condolences to the families of those who perished in the incident, but said it would be awaiting the results of the investigation before commenting further.
"We wish to extend our deepest condolences to the families of our fishefolk who perished in this tragic event at sea ... Out of respect for the bereaved families, we consider it prudent to wait for the results of the investigation before making any further statements in this regard," it said.
At the Senate, at least four senators called on the authorities to seek justice on the death of the three Filipino fishermen.
Interviewed on Super Radyo dzBB, PCG spokesperson Rear Admiral Armand Balilo said the Filipino fishermen may have been asleep when the incident happened.
"Malamang hindi nakita ito, tulog 'yung ibang crew members kaya hindi naka-survive (They probably did not see the other boat, they were asleep so they did not survive)," he said.
He said they will determine the type and size of the commercial vessel that rammed the Filipino fishing boat, among others, as part of their investigation.
"Titignan nating mabuti kung ano 'yung mga circumstances dito sa insidente, gaano kalaki 'yung barko, 'yung mga locals ba ay hindi sila nakita, at siyempre 'yung lagay din ng panahon para mag-contribute dun sa visibility nung area," Balilo said.
(We'll look closely at the circumstances behind this incident like how big is the commercial vessel, did the local fishermen fail to see it, and also if the weather affected the visibility in the area.)
According to one of the survivors , eight fishermen were engaged in fishing at different locations while six crew members, including the boat captain, were on the mother boat when the incident occurred.
"Due to the adverse weather conditions causing darkness, the crew on board the mother boat failed to detect an unidentified vessel approaching, resulting in a collision that caused the mother boat to capsize," the PCG said, citing the survivor.
The 11 survivors utilized their eight service boats to leave the vicinity waters and transport the deceased victims to Barangay Cato in Infanta, Pangasinan, the PCG said in a spot report.
"They arrived around 10AM yesterday, 03 October 2023, and reported the incident to the nearest Coast Guard sub-station for necessary assistance," the PCG said.
Balilo said PCG personnel have already been deployed to Infanta to talk to the survivors and the families of the fatalities for possible assistance.
"Nakahanda po tayong magbigay ng assistance sa pamilya (We are ready to provide assistance to the families)," he said.
Scarborough Shoal is a U-shaped rocky outcrop teeming with marine resources. It lies 124 nautical miles off the nearest Philippine landmass of Palawan.
Tensions around those waters have recently flared up after the Philippines said it removed a 300-meter-long floating barrier installed by the China Coast Guard near the Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing spot and one of Asia's most contested maritime features.
The strategic shoal, named after a British cargo vessel that ran aground on the atoll in the 18th century, was seized in 2012 by China, which has maintained a constant presence of coastguard and fishing trawlers there ever since.
China has rejected the Philippine version of events over the barrier, while the United States has weighed in with support behind Manila and vowed to honor its treaty commitments to defend its treaty ally if attacked. —Anna Felicia Bajo with Reuters/KBK/RSJ, GMA Integrated News