Philippines protests sinking of boat in disputed waters

Clay Curtis
June 13, 2019

The Philippine defense secretary said Wednesday that an anchored Filipino fishing boat sank in the disputed South China Sea after being hit by a suspected Chinese vessel which then abandoned the 22 Filipino crewmen.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew", Lorenzana said.

"We thank the captain and crew of Vietnamese vessel, for saving the lives of the 22 Filipino crew", Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana had condemned the crew of the Chinese fishing vessel for abandoning the 22 distressed Filipinos aboard FB Gimber 1, who were later rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat and a Philippine Navy ship.

The South China, called the West Philippine Sea by Manila, is partially claimed by Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin announced he filed a diplomatic protest in a tweet on Thursday.

Locsin said Duterte will have the final say, urging critics to just wait for the government's actions.

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials.

The incident took place near Reed Bank, an area claimed by both Manila and Beijing where there's a pending oil exploration plan by Philippines company PXP Energy Corp.

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Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte backs Lorenzana's actions on the boat sinking and added the abandonment of the Filipino fishermen was "uncivilized as it is outrageous".

Panelo said, the Chinese crew should have at least saved the Filipino crewmen even despite the existing territorial dispute between China and the Philippines.

One senator, Ana Theresia Risa Hontiveros called on President Rodrigo Duterte "to immediately order the recall of our ambassador and all our consuls in China, "the Manila Times reported".

However, Philippine defence department spokesman Arsenio Andolong told AFP the agency had yet to confirm whether the vessel was Chinese-registered, adding it was the Filipino fishermen who identified it as such.

The waters are strategically important and Manila calls the area the West Philippine Sea.

In past years, Chinese ships have blocked or intimidated Philippine military and civilian vessels at Reed Bank and nearby Second Thomas Shoal, where Philippine marines keep watch on board a long-marooned Philippine navy ship while being constantly monitored by Chinese coast guard ships in a years-long standoff.

China has refused to recognize a United Nations-backed arbitral ruling on a Philippine case which invalidated its sweeping claims in the resource-rich waters.

China, according to Panelo, has yet to reach out to the Philippines following the incident.

The government earlier protested the swarming of Chinese vessels around Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island and Chinese fishermen's harvesting of giant clams, locally known as taklobos, in Scarborough Shoal.

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