MANILA (UPDATE) - In the dead of night of June 9, most crew members of GEM-VIR1 were asleep, dog-tired from nearly 2 weeks of catching fish in the West Philippine Sea.
Navigation lights illuminated their boat while it was berthed in the waters off Recto Bank (Reed Bank) near Palawan to avoid the risk of allision.
The Filipino fishermen had set off from Occidental Mindoro on May 29 and were on their last day before heading home when a speeding Chinese fishing vessel was coming their way.
JP Gordiones recalled he was roused from sleep because of the chaos and shouting. He and other crewmates rushed to the bow of the boat, moments before the foreign ship plowed them.
"Akala ko po na panaginip lang pero 'yun pala totoo na," Gordiones said.
(I thought it was just a dream, but it turned out to be true.)
Meanwhile, Ramil Gregorio was in for a rude awakening and found himself submerged in cold water.
"Paggising ko, lumubog na kami. Nagsigawan kami, 'Tulong! Tulong'," he said.
(When I woke up, we were already sinking. We shouted, "Help! Help!")
Boat captain Junel Insigne said the Chinese fishing vessel, identified by Chinese authorities as Yuemaobinyu 42212, stopped for a while and flashed its lights.
"Nakita nila kaming lubog na, naglalanguyan na," he said.
(They saw that the boat was sinking and we're floating in the water.)
Instead of rescuing the distressed fishermen, the Chinese fishing vessel maneuvered in reverse and rushed off, Insigne recalled.
"Akala ko tutulungan kami. Tinakbuhan pa kami."
(I thought they were going to help us, but they abandoned us instead.)
While the crew were struggling to stay afloat, they saw a gleam of hope some 5 miles away.
Insigne asked Gordiones and Justine Pascual to row a small banca to ask for help from another vessel.
It took the pair some 2 hours to reach the vessel, which they later found out to be manned by the Vietnamese.
Gordiones and Pascual gestured that they had crewmates stuck at sea. The Vietnamese then came to aid the Filipino crew, rescued them and later gave them food.
"Pinaakyat po kaming lahat. Doon kami pinakain, doon kami pinagpahinga muna, pinainom ng tubig. Sila nagtulong sa amin," he said.
(They allowed us on their vessel. They fed us, let us rest, gave us water. They are the ones who helped us.)
Asked how he knew of their nationality, Insigne said: "Sabi niya, 'Vietnam? Philippines? Friends.' Kaya alam kong Vietnam."
(He said, "Vietnam? Philippines? Friends." That's why I knew they were from Vietnam.)
Insigne remains puzzled why the Chinese fishing vessel rammed their boat unprovoked.
The incident happened on a day declared as the annual commemoration of Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day in waters within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the disputed South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety.
"Wala naman po kaming pineperwisyo sa kanila. Naghahanap-buhay naman po kami ng maayos," he said.
(We are not causing them any trouble. We are simply trying to make a living.)
The 22-man crew safely returned to their families Friday night. The incident may have left them badly shaken, but for them who rely on fishing for their livelihood, they may well go out to sea again before long. - with reports from Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News