The Philippine defense secretary condemned the alleged actions of a Chinese vessel after a Philippine fishing boat was sunk in the disputed South China Sea after being hit by a suspected Chinese vessel which then abandoned the 22 Filipino crewmen. Though details remain unclear, the incident and its fallout threatened to rock relations between China and the Philippines despite warming ties that had been underway initially under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said in a statement that a collision between a Chinese and a Philippine vessel, the FB Gimver 1, was reported by Filipino fishermen near the Recto Bank in the South China Sea on the evening of June 9, with the collision sinking the vessel. Per the statement, the vessel, which came from Occidental Mindoro, had 22 fishermen on board, was rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel.
“We denounce the actions of the Chinese fishing vessel for immediately leaving the incident scene abandoning the 22 Filipino crewmen to the mercy of the elements,” Lorenzana said.
The incident comes as Duterte’s warming of ties with China continues to come under growing scrutiny in the Philippines, including with respect to the South China Sea. Despite the prospect held up by both sides of making progress on areas such as joint exploration, there remain significant obstacles to actually operationalizing any agreement or even managing ties more generally.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew. This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people,” he added.
Lorenzana called for a “formal investigation” of the June 9 sinking at Reed Bank and asked that diplomatic steps be taken to prevent a repeat of the incident.
Details of the incident still remain unclear apart from the official Philippine account. The Philippine coast guard says it is checking whether Chinese fishermen were involved or those from other neighboring countries and if the collision was intentional.
By The Associated Press, with additional reporting by The Diplomat.