Two Vietnamese killed, five arrested in chase with Philippine navy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 9:53pm

Two Vietnamese fishermen were found dead and five others were taken into custody after they were spotted fishing off the northwestern Philippines, sparking a night chase during which a Vietnamese boat hit a Philippine navy ship and shots were fired, officials said on Sunday.

Philippine navy information officer Lieutenant Jose Covvarubias said the five Vietnamese, along with their two dead fellow fishermen, were turned over to Philippine police authorities after the early Saturday incident off Bolinao town in northwestern Pangasinan province.

A Philippine security official said the incident unfolded closer to the Philippine coast and was not related to the main territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila was the one authorised to speak on the issue.

Covvarubias said details were sketchy and that an investigation was underway. It was not immediately clear whether the two Vietnamese died from gunshot wounds or other causes.

“The information that we got is a Vietnamese fishing boat hit the navy ship,” Covvarubias said, adding that “a Vietnamese fishing vessel was being apprehended” when the confrontation happened.

The security official said a Philippine navy patrol ship, PS19, spotted six suspected Vietnamese fishing vessels using powerful lights to attract fish more than 55km from Bolinao.

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The use of the fishing accessories, known locally as “superlights”, is prohibited under Philippine law.

The six fishing vessels fled but one manoeuvred and hit the Philippine navy ship, prompting its crew to fire warning shots during the commotion, the official said, adding that two Vietnamese fishermen were later found dead and five others were arrested.

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The Philippine navy personnel “followed the rules of engagement, including identification protocol and use of radio and public address system”, the official said, adding that the Vietnamese fishing boat was towed to Pangasinan after the incident.

Vietnamese embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.

Covvarubias said the incident happened within the 370km exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, a stretch of ocean where a coastal state has exclusive rights to fish and exploit other sea resources although foreign ships could pass through.