The captain of the San Jose, Occidental Mindoro-based F/B Gem-Ver on Friday maintained that he and his crew were minding their own business when a reported Chinese fishing vessel appeared out of nowhere and struck them while anchored off Recto Bank midnight of June 9.
“It was around 12 midnight. We were anchored and we were showing a lot of white bright lights to signal our position, when a ship suddenly appeared out of nowhere and hit us. It was fast, I was trying to start our engine when we were hit in the stern, cutting it off from the rest of our boat,” Junel Insigne, 43, said in Filipino when asked by reporters on the circumstances of the incident that capsized their boat, tossing him and his crew to the sea.
Insigne said they were doing nothing provocative to warrant such actions by the suspected Chinese fishing vessel.
“We were lucky that we were hit in the stern. If we were struck in the middle, the boat would have been cut in half and it would have sunk immediately,” he said.
Insigne, a veteran fisherman, said the Chinese fishing vessel stopped after his boat capsized, then circled them.
“We thought it was going to pick us up from the water and rescue us. However, it turned off its lights and turned away before speeding up,” he added.
Insigne said they were floating for three hours before they were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel some five miles away.
He added that the Vietnamese ship managed to learn of their predicament when two of his men, whom he instructed to contact the vessel, were able to make their situation known by 2 a.m.
“The Vietnamese ship managed to rescue all of us by 3 a.m.,” Insigne said.
The fisherman said the Vietnamese crew fed them, gave them time to rest, and provided them with other necessities, including radio communications, which they used to contact their fishing boat’s owner.
Eventually, F/B Gem-Ver’s sister ship picked them up from the Vietnamese vessel before they were transferred to the BRP Ramon Alcaraz.
Insigne said he is very sure that it was a Chinese fishing vessel that hit them based on the fishing equipment it was using, which included a “Superlight” and metal.
He also said that in the many years he has been fishing, it was the first time that he was struck by a Chinese vessel, an incident that has deeply scared him and his crew.
The boat captain believes that their boat was struck intentionally, noting that if it were an accident, the offending vessel would have immediately stopped and picked them up from the waters.
“We were anchored and resting as we spent the entire day fishing. We were surprised when it suddenly appeared and hit us. In the past, when it comes alongside us, it just stays with us in peace,” he related.
Insigne also described the Chinese vessel as larger than his fishing boat.
At the time their boat was hit, he said,they have caught about three tons of assorted fish, including “lapu-lapu” (grouper).
Members of the media earlier boarded the BRP Tausug (LC-295) in San Jose town to meet up with the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16), which was transporting Insigne and his crew.
There, medical staff of the naval ship treated the fishermen and provided them with medicines and food. The two naval ships met off the northeastern part of Capulong Island, Occidental Mindoro.
Insigne said he hopes that the government would do something to aid their operator in terms of financial losses.
Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson, Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the military can assist relevant government agencies in its probe into the incident.
“The AFP may assist the relevant government agency that may conduct a formal inquiry on the incident. But on top of it, we will, as we did upon learning of the incident, come to the aid and succor fellow Filipinos in need,” he said in a message to reporters.
Earlier, Philippine Navy (PN) flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said that regardless of who is at fault, vessels that sustain minimal or no damage are obligated to rescue distressed mariners at sea.
This, he said, is mandated by the seafarer’s conscience and is an established part of international maritime law.
Empedrad was referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which states that every signatory to the convention must require the master of a ship flying its flag to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost and to proceed to the rescue of persons in distress.
The Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) likewise sets out the obligation of ships’ masters to render assistance if they are in a position to provide help upon receiving information that there are people in danger in the high seas.
“(Helping distressed mariners) is also conscience-based. Why would you not help people who are in danger of dying? What kind of people are you? I mean, regardless of who is to blame for the collision, especially in the event of a sinking, you have to help the people who are going to drown. It is the responsibility of everyone (to save distressed mariners),” Empedrad said in Filipino.
The Navy chief also said that he strongly supports the statement issued by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana condemning the incident and demanding that an investigation and diplomatic protest be made.
“We call for the conduct of a formal investigation on the matter and for diplomatic steps to be taken to prevent a repeat of this incident,” Lorenzana said.
Empedrad added that nobody can just collide with a ship and leave the crew in the water.
The offending ship can be charged for possible violations of the “Rules of the Road”, also known as the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (Colregs), which set rules for ships to prevent collisions between vessels, he said. (Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)