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Philippines Searches for Filipino Fishermen After Collision at Sea

Jojo Rinoza and Nonoy Espina
Manila and Bacolod, Philippines
2020-06-29
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In this photo released by the Philippine coast guard, the capsized hull of the Filipino fishing boat FV Liberty is seen in waters off the Philippine island of Occidental Mindoro after a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship allegedly collided with it, June 29, 2020.
In this photo released by the Philippine coast guard, the capsized hull of the Filipino fishing boat FV Liberty is seen in waters off the Philippine island of Occidental Mindoro after a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship allegedly collided with it, June 29, 2020.
Handout/Philippine Coast Guard

The Philippine Coast Guard still searching for 14 people missing from a Filipino fishing boat that capsized off Mindoro Island near the South China Sea after a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship collided with it the night before, officials said Monday.

The MV Vienna Wood ship struck the smaller Filipino boat, the FV Liberty 5, on Sunday evening in an apparent accident in waters about 15 nautical miles (27 km) off Tayamaan, a town in Occidental Mindoro province in the northern Philippines, the coast guard said in an incident report.

The coast guard flew search-and-rescue aircraft over the area to find the 12 crewmembers and two other people who were on board the fishing boat, but had found no traces of survivors as of Monday afternoon, officials said.

“Some of our rescue personnel already sighted the overturned fishing boat. We will check the vicinity to find out the whereabouts of the fishermen involved,” Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo told reporters.

“The involved missing crew, as reported, is 12. We are already conducting [a] search and rescue. We have a floating asset in the area and other teams are on standby,” Balilo said.

According to information posted by the coast guard on its Facebook page, the captain of the Hong Kong-registered ship sent the coast guard a distress signal on Sunday “about a collision incident” with the Philippine fishing boat. The Vienna Wood was sailing to Australia after departing from Subic, Philippines, when the collision occurred, the coast guard said. As of Monday night, the Vienna Wood was docked at Batangas, a port on Luzon Island.

The collision that resulted in the capsizing of the Philippine boat on Sunday occurred more than a year after the Philippines protested the ramming and sinking of Filipino boat by a Chinese boat in disputed waters of the South China Sea. In that incident, 22 Filipino crew members were left to float at sea until a Vietnamese boat rescued them.

On Monday, the Philippine presidential palace said Sunday night’s incident should be resolved by local laws because the collision occurred in Philippine territorial waters.

“There is no international law application here other than foreign flagships can sail through under the concept of innocent passage,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a news conference.

As far as accountability was concerned, Philippine courts could settle any legal claims stemming from the latest collision, he said.

“You know, the rules of collision at sea are the same as those applied in collision on land,” Roque said. “So that will have not have a big implication. That’s just a collision.”

But Pamalakaya, a group representing Filipino fishermen, condemned the incident.

“This is the very same month last year that a Chinese vessel almost killed 22 Filipino fishermen in a hit-and-run incident in Recto Bank, an underwater reef formation in the West Philippine Sea. One year of no justice and yet another tragic incident happened,” said Fernando Hicap, the group’s chairman, referring to the South China Sea by its Philippine name.

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