By Philippine News Agency
ABOARD THE BRP RAMON ALCARAZ – 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.
Filipino fishermen onboard a Philippine Navy vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz as they come back home after a collision with a Chinese vessel in the waters of Reed Bank in Occidental Mindoro province, Philippines, June 14, 2019. (EPA-EFE / STR / MANILA BULLETIN)
"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," June 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 other 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 which came from 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.
"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 stayed with us in peace," he related.
Insigne described the Chinese vessel as larger than his fishing boat.
At the time their boat was hit, he said, they had caught about three tons of assorted fish, including "lapu-lapu" (grouper).
READ MORE: Chinese vessel sinks Filipino fishing boat in collision, fishermen abandoned on the scene
Members of the media had earlier boarded the BRP Tausug (LC-295) in San Jose town to meet 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 will do something to aid their operator in terms of financial losses.
Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman, 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 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 states the obligation of ship 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.