Philippine defence chief urges ‘diplomatic protest’ after Chinese vessel sinks fishing boat in disputed waters
- A Filipino craft anchored near Recto Bank – claimed by both Manila and Beijing – sank on Sunday
- Its 22 crewmen were left ‘to the mercy of the elements’, according to Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana
Lorenzana condemned the sinking of the F/B Gimver 1 on Sunday night due to the collision at Reed Bank off the western Philippine province of Palawan and the abandonment of its Filipino crew.
Lorenzana has sought an investigation of the sinking and said the rescued Filipino crewmen identified the vessel that hit them as Chinese.
“A strongly worded diplomatic protest is in order,” he said on Thursday.
“We denounce the actions of the Chinese fishing vessel for immediately leaving the incident [and] abandoning the 22 Filipino crewmen,” Lorenzana said in a statement. “This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people.”
However, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo told reporters the offending vessel’s origin had not yet been verified.
“We are waiting for the Filipino fishermen to come back so we can talk to them. We cannot immediately say that the other vessel is Chinese,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr said on Twitter from Geneva that the abandonment of the stricken crew was both “contemptible and condemnable”, adding that the incident would form “the basis of enhanced … military cooperation” between the Philippines and Vietnam.
Both countries have partial claims over the South China Sea, where Beijing has staked “indisputable sovereignty” and built artificial islands with military facilities and airstrips.
Competing claims over the sea are a point of regional contention because trillions of dollars of goods pass through it, and rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath its waters.
Recto, or Reed Bank is about 150km off the Philippine island of Palawan and within Manila’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone – far from China’s nearest major land mass.
“This is not a problem between both countries’ coastguards and navies. There were shortcomings on the part of the Chinese fishermen because they abandoned the Filipino crew,” he said.
“But it depend on the circumstances. It should be handled in the context of negotiation. I don’t think it will prove to be a major incident … though there will be those who will agitate for that.”
In 2011, the Philippines accused Chinese vessels of harassing an exploration vessel off Recto Bank.
“I love China … but it behooves upon us to ask, ‘is it right for a country to claim the whole ocean’?” he asked.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press