Manila: Anchored Philippine Boat At Fault in Controversial Allision

The wreck of the Gem-Ver 1 (Malacañang)

Published Jul 3, 2019 10:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

The foreign affairs secretary of the Philippines, Teodoro Locsin Jr., asserted Wednesday that the allision between a moving Chinese vessel and an anchored Philippine fishing boat last month was caused by the latter vessel's crew. 

The crew of the Philippine vessel, the Gem-Ver I, claimed that their boat was run down and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Yuemaobinyu 42212. In addition, they alleged that the Yuemaobinyu did not stop to offer assistance after the casualty. 

The incident occurred in contested waters near the Spratly Islands, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has downplayed it as a minor accident rather than an intentional ramming, citing the risk of conflict with China. "Do not allow a little maritime accident . . . [make us] go to war," Duterte said in address to the Philippine Navy last month. 

Locsin went further Wednesday, claiming that negligence on the part of the Gem-Ver I's crew caused the casualty. “I don’t want to say it because I’m not authorized by the ones who made it, the Coast Guard, to reveal it. But I can tell you this much. There was no lookout that the cook was out there on deck. Everybody was asleep,” Locsin told Philippine outlet ANC. “And then [the cook] looked up again and said, ‘my gosh it’s gotta hit’ and he [shined] a small light. Whether or not that light should have been sufficient to warn the oncoming Chinese vessel, I don’t know." 

Locsin did not contest the crew's allegation that the Yuemaobinyu departed the scene, and initial reports from the Philippine military contained the same assertion. "If it's accidental, it's SOP they should stop, they should rescue these fishermen. But when they hit [the boat], they didn't stop," said Lt. Col. Stephen Penetrante, a spokesman for AFP's Western Command, speaking to media on June 12. "It's like a hit and run."

Duterte draws criticism

Duterte's political opponents have criticized his handling of the incident and have accused him of failing to protect Philippine sovereignty against Chinese encroachment. The incident occurred in the Philippine EEZ, but Duterte said that he could not keep Chinese fishermen out of the area due to a "mutual agreement" with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A spokesman clarified that it is a verbal, informal agreement, but "valid and binding."

Citing a section of the Philippine Constitution that requires the government to protect the resources within the nation's EEZ "and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens," critics have called for an impeachment complaint against Duterte for abdicating his constitutional responsibilities. In return, Duterte has threatened to arrest his accusers if they attempt to launch impeachment proceedings. However, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday that arresting anyone backing an impeachment complaint would be out of the question, as there would be "no legal basis for an arrest."