Analyst: Chinese crew in Reed Bank incident liable for abandoning PH fishermen

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 20 2019 07:37 PM

MANILA - The crew of the Chinese vessel that figured in an incident with a Philippine fishing boat in the West Philippine Sea on June 9 violated international law for leaving the Filipinos adrift, a political analyst said Thursday. 

Filipino fishing boat F/B GEM-VER was anchored near Recto (Reed) Bank off Palawan when it was hit by a Chinese vessel. The ship sank, and the 22 Filipino fishermen thrown overboard were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel some 5 nautical miles away. 

The Filipino fishers initially said they were rammed and abandoned at sea, while China described the incident as an accident and that the Chinese vessel attempted a rescue but was "besieged" by other Filipino vessels in the area. 

Lucio Pitlo III, a lecturer in the China Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University, said the Chinese crew involved in the incident should be prosecuted for leaving the Filipino fishermen stranded and floating at sea.

"Regardless whether the blame should be assigned on one ship or another, it’s very clear that in this case, the Chinese fisher(men) who were involved in the incident did not render the assistance necessary to ensure the lives of those 22 fisher(men) will not be endangered," Pitlo said.

He said this was a clear violation of international maritime law, which makes it an imperative to help any mariner or seafarer in a sea incident. 

Under Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, signatory nations "shall require" ship captains to rescue those in need of help at sea as long as it would not pose danger on the rescuing vessel and its crew. 

Both the Philippines and China signed the international law. 

Pitlo stressed that the Chinese vessel's act of leaving the Filipino fishermen stranded was "a big mistake on their end" and that they should be held accountable. 

"This underscores the importance of reaffirming adherence and observance to rules of the sea," Pitlo said.

He said Beijing should prosecute the Chinese crew. 

"Mahalaga rin siguro para mapakita ng China 'yung kaniyang good faith o goodwill na ito ay isang aksidente, na ito ay hindi intention(al). Siguro mainam na mag-provide siguro ng apology (ang China)," Pitlo said.

(It might also be important for China to show good faith, goodwill that this is an accident, that this was not intentional. Perhaps it would be good if they (China) make an apology.)

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Thursday President Rodrigo Duterte's Cabinet is not contemplating legal action against Beijing and the Chinese crew.

But he confirmed "the Philippines can pursue legal action under international maritime laws and UNCLOS."

Duterte earlier called for calm amid public outrage, downplaying the incident. Malacañang also cast doubt on the fishermen's recollection of what happened. 

 - report from Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News