25 Chinese fishermen nabbed

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Twenty-five Chinese fishermen on two boats flying inverted Philippine flags have been arrested for straying into Philippine waters near Batanes, the coast guard reported yesterday.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Lt. Jeffrey Collado, commander of the vessel MCS 3010, said the 25 suspected Chinese poachers were stopped in the vicinity of Sabtang island, Batanes on Monday.

Collado said the PCG men were with Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) personnel led by director Asis Perez when they apprehended the officers and crew of Chinese fishing boats F/V She Kou and F/V Shen Lian Cheng. BFAR owns MCS 3010.

Perez said the boats were flying inverted Philippine flags.

The arrest happened at around 4 p.m. while MCS 3010 was patrolling the waters near Sabtang between Babuyan Island and Batanes.

“Based on existing rules, the fact that both foreign fishing vessels were flying Philippine flag gave rise to the presumption that they are engaged in poaching, as there seems to be an attempt to conceal the vessels’ true identity to enable them to engage in fishing activity in Philippine waters,” Perez said.

The Chinese reportedly gave the excuse that they were just passing through when they strayed into Philippine waters.

“The Chinese fishermen said they were headed west but then their route showed that they were not moving westward but toward Cagayan Island,” a known fishing ground, said Collado.

The fishermen reportedly were also unable to present papers that would have authorized their presence in Philippine waters. There was also no emergency such as bad weather condition or engine trouble that would have justified their having veered toward Batanes.

The fact that the Chinese were using fishing boats bolstered PCG’s and BFAR’s suspicion the foreigners were illegally fishing in the country.

“We boarded the fishing boats and while we did not find any fish on board, we saw several fishing equipment such as long lines and nets,” Collado said.

The fishing vessels were escorted to Basco, Batanes for further investigation.

“We will ensure that the incident will be thoroughly investigated following the proper procedures,” Perez said.

He added BFAR has informed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the incident and has requested for official interpreters to help in the investigation. It’s the DFA’s task to notify the Chinese embassy of the incident.

Last week, a joint PCG-BFAR patrol captured 18 Vietnamese fishermen suspected of poaching in Calayan island in Cagayan province. Several frozen fishes were found in their boats.

Beijing’s intention

Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua conveyed to incoming president Rodrigo Duterte Beijing’s intention to “properly deal” with its differences with Manila, specifically over the West Philippine Sea.

The Chinese embassy said Zhao met with Duterte on Monday in Davao City, and had friendly and sincere exchanges on developments in Philippines-China relations.

“He stressed that China and the Philippines are good neighbors, partners and relatives, and the Chinese side is looking forward to working with the Philippine side to properly deal with the differences, deepen traditional friendship and promote mutually beneficial cooperation, so as to bring the bilateral ties forward,” the embassy said.

According to the embassy, Duterte voiced his willingness to improve and develop Philippines-China relations.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday China “stands ready to work alongside the new Philippine government to properly deal with relevant disputes through friendly dialogue and bring bilateral ties back to the track of sound development.”

“It is hoped that the new Philippine government will join China with the same readiness and attitude,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said. – With Louise Maureen Simeon, Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude

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