PH has no authority to probe alleged harassment of Liberian-flagged ship by Chinese vessel: Coast Guard

Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 05 2019 06:27 PM

MANILA - The Philippine government has no authority to investigate the supposed harassment of a Filipino-crewed Liberian commercial vessel by the “Chinese naval warship” at Scarborough Shoal on Sept. 30, even as the incident happened inside Philippine waters, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Tuesday.

According to reports, Liberian-flagged and Greek-owned crude oil tanker Green Aura was passing 6 nautical miles from Scarborough Shoal when they were accosted by the Chinese who told them to "keep away" as the area was under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government. 

Filipino captain Manolo Ebora, claiming innocent passage, insisted on staying their course and challenged the authority of the Chinese Coast Guard over Scarborough Shoal. The captain eventually decided to veer away after seeing that the Chinese started to tail their ship. 

In an interview, Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Vice Admiral Joel Garcia said they cannot look into the incident as they have yet to receive a marine protest from the Liberian government.

“The Philippines has no locus standi to conduct investigation on board an extended territory of the Liberian government which is the MV Green Aura,” he said. “So the Philippines cannot just go inside the territory of the Liberian government to conduct an investigation unless, otherwise, we are requested by the Liberian government.”

The Coast Guard chief said they are still checking whether Ebora reported the incident to the Philippine government, but stressed they cannot act on it unless the complaint is coursed through Liberian authorities.

“Officially, hindi pa tayo nag-conduct ng imbestigasyon tungkol dito kasi wala pa tayong natatanggap na official marine protest from the Liberian government. Hindi pwedeng tanggapin ang marine protest ni Captain Ebora because he is not serving the Philippine interest,” he said.

(Officially, we haven't yet conducted an investigation over the incident as we still haven't received an official marine protest from the Liberian government. Captain Ebora's marine protest cannot be accepted because he is not serving the Philippine interest.)

"While onboard the Liberian vessel, he was serving the Liberian government. It is, but proper and fitting, that the marine protest should be filed with the Liberian government."

Malacañang spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier said the reported incident was not a concern of the government as it did not involve a Philippine vessel.

“For as long as they do not touch the Philippine ship or vessel, it would be the concern of that country that carries the flag of that particular vessel,” Panelo told reporters in Thailand. He, however, said that China should respect international law.

Garcia, meanwhile, said that the Philippine Coast Guard is set to raise the incident when they sit down and talk with their Chinese counterparts in a scheduled meeting this coming December.

While the PCG cannot investigate the incident, Garcia said they will conduct an inquiry over Captain Ebero’s actions which he said could possibly affect the employment of thousands of Filipino seafarers.

Garcia said that that Ebora violated protocol by reporting the supposed harassment by the Chinese to the media even without the authority of the Liberian and Greek authorities. 

“Before sila mainterview ng media ay dapat humingi muna sila ng authority sa flag of registry or even sa principal nila. In this case 'yung may-ari ng kargamento, 'yung Greek owner. Standard operating procedure po 'yan na lahat ng mga seafarers natin na sumasampa sa barko ng dayuhan. They are not supposed to be interviewed by media,” Garcia said.

(Before they are interviewed by the media, they should have asked first authority from their flag of registry or principal. In this case, the owner of their cargo, the Greek owner. It's standard operating procedure of every seafarers onboard foreign vessels. They are not supposed to be interviewed by media.)

Garcia said that while it is commendable that the Filipino captain stood his ground against the Chinese during the incident, Ebora may have inadvertently dragged Liberia and Greece into the territorial row between the Philippines and China. 

“Medyo mag-ingat po tayo kasi sa totoo lang, baka dinadrag natin ang Liberia tsaka Greece. Meron po silang independent foreign policy. Hindi naman fair sa Greece at sa Liberia na i-involve natin sila sa hindi pagkakaunawaan sa South China Sea,” the PCG chief said.

(Let's be careful because we might be dragging Liberia and Greece. They have an independent foreign policy. It's not fair that we involve Liberia and Greece in our disputes in the South China Sea.)

The 25,000-member Masters and Mates Association of the Philippines (MMAP) has expressed their concern to the Philippine Coast Guard over Captain Ebora’s action. 

“Meron po kaming company protocol na hinding-hindi ka pwedeng magbigay ng anumang statement or declaration o komento unless, otherwise, dumaan ka doon sa aming pinaka-company or ship owner or management owner,” said Captain Edwin Itable, president of MMAP.

(We have company protocol that we cannot give any statement, declaration or comment unless, otherwise, we go through our shipowner or management owner.)