Sinking of Philippine vessel an 'ordinary maritime accident,' China says

Agence France-Presse
Sinking of Philippine vessel an 'ordinary maritime accident,' China says
China said it is still investigating the maritime incident that resulted in the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat.
FMPRC / Release, File

Beijing, China — The sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a suspected Chinese trawler in disputed waters was described by Beijing Thursday as an ordinary maritime accident after Manila accused the alleged Chinese crew of cowardice for fleeing the scene.

The Department of National Defense said Wednesday a suspected Chinese boat had collided with a Filipino craft anchored near Reed Bank in the South China Sea, causing it to sink and leaving 22 crewmen to their fate.

READ: DND wants probe into collision near Recto Bank that sank Filipino fishing boat

Malacañang said the abandonment of the Filipino crew was "barbaric," while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana condemned the Chinese trawler's "cowardly action."

Neither Beijing nor Manila have officially confirmed the boat involved in the hit-and-run incident was Chinese-registered.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday called the incident "an ordinary maritime traffic accident," and said China was still investigating.

He added, however: "If the relevant reports are true, regardless of the country from which the perpetrator came from, their behavior should be condemned."

READ: Filipino fishermen asleep when Chinese boat hit them at midnight

Geng said it was irresponsible for the Philipines to "politicize the incident without verification."

Although Duterte has largely set aside the bitter dispute with Beijing over the resource-rich South China Sea, Manila does sometimes protest against Chinese action. 

In an angry statement issued Thursday, Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo blasted the suspected Chinese trawler crew, saying "such act of desertion is as inhuman as it is barbaric."

"Regardless of the nature of the collision, whether it was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the downed Philippine vessel," he said.

READ: Philippines protests Chinese vessel's sinking of Filipino boat

Panelo also thanked the crew of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity which he said brought the Filipinos to safety. 

Like the Philippines, Vietnam has partial claims over the South China Sea, where Beijing has staked "indisputable sovereignty" and built artificial islands with military facilities and airstrips.

Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the area. 

Reed Bank is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) off the Philippine island of Palawan. It is within Manila's 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and far from China's nearest major landmass.

READ: Philippine coast guard spots Chinese warship, militia boats near Scarborough Shoal




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