Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr on Monday called on members of the United Nations to enforce their duty under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to render assistance to persons in distress at sea.
Speaking at UN Headquarters in New York, Locsin cited the June 9 sinking of a Philippine fishing vessel anchored in Recto Bank in Palawan, in the West Philippine Sea after being hit by a Chinese vessel.
He said the incident’s location is at an area within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
"The 22 Filipino crew were left in the water until a Vietnamese vessel took them on board. We are eternally grateful, we are eternally in debt to our strategic partner, Vietnam, for this act of mercy and decency," he said.
"The incident, to put it diplomatically, highlights the moral and possibly legal —though one wouldn’t bet on it — imperative of coming to the rescue of persons in distress at sea. Article 98 of UNCLOS explicitly provides for the 'duty to render assistance,'" he added.
He added it is a felony to abandon anyone in need.
"It is the obligation of every member state of the UN and of the IMO to pay, not just lip service to these conventions but to observe them in real life-and-death situations. The rescue of persons in distress is a universally recognized obligation of people and governments; and in the civil law and, maybe even in common law, it is a felony to abandon people in distress; especially when we cause that distress; and more so when it is no bother at all to save them at no risk to oneself. While no sanction is available in international law, it should be a cause of some concern."
The speech comes just after Locsin played down the need to bring up the Reed Bank incident before the international community.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila earlier denied that a Chinese ship abandoned Filipino fishermen after sinking their boat near Reed Bank last Sunday.
The embassy claimed that Chinese fishing boat Yuemaobinyu 42212 was berthed near Reed Bank when it was "suddenly besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats."
"During evacuation, 42212 failed to shun a Filipino fishing boat and its steel cable on the lightning grid of larboard bumped into the Filipino pilothouse. The Filipino fishing boat tilted and its stern foundered," the statement read, citing Beijing's preliminary investigation.
The embassy said the Chinese captain attempted to rescue the Filipino fishermen but was "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats."