PH to sue Chinese ship crew in local courts if China fails to penalize them

Pia Ranada
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo says the Philippines can file a case on 'reckless imprudence resulting to serious damage of property' against the captain and crew of the Chinese ship that hit F/B Gem-Ver

ORDEAL AT SEA. Children play around the dry-docked F/B Gem-Ver on June 21, 2019. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Philippine government will bring to court the captain and crew of the Chinese ship that rammed Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver should the Chinese government fail to impose sanctions on them.

“If they (China) cannot do that (sanctions), we will sue them in our jurisdiction. They endangered lives. We can file a case on reckless imprudence resulting to serious damage of property and endangering lives of our countrymen,” said Panelo on Monday, July 8.

Law experts have also said the Chinese crew can be taken to court for violating the Philippines’ Fisheries Code. According to this law, foreign fishing vessels can be fined by the government for mere presence in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The PCG-Marina report concluded that the Chinese ship had rammed F/B Gem-Ver inside the Philippine EEZ.

But the Duterte spokesman expects China to penalize the Chinese captain and crew if its investigation shows they committed violations or had no justifiable reason for abandoning the Filipino fishermen.

Sinabi na rin nila they will not allow it. Kung may kasalanan sila (Chinese crew) they will impose sanction for their irresponsible behavior. Kung accountable sila at mayroon namang compensation, at prinosecute nila or whatever, kung anong sanction nila, justice na rin ‘yun,” said Panelo.

(They were the ones who said they will not allow it. If the Chinese crew were at fault, they will impose sanctions for their irresponsible behavior. If they are held accountable and compensation is provided, they are prosecuted or given whatever sanction, that’s also justice.)

The spokesman, who is also Duterte’s chief legal counsel, said the Philippine government is “definitely” determined to exact accountability from the Chinese captain and crew.

Joint probe

His assurance comes after the completion of the Philippine Coat Guard (PCG) and Maritime Industry Authority’s (Marina’s) report on the Recto Bank boat sinking which concluded the Chinese ship violated two maritime laws when it abandoned the Gem-Ver crew after hitting their seacraft.

Panelo, who said he has not read the report, said the two governments will still need to compare findings of their respective probes. The “task forces” or “working groups” of the two countries are then expected to issue a joint statement on the next steps.

An earlier PCG report  recommended that the “master of the vessel that collided with FBCA Gem-Ver (Fishing Boat Gem-Ver) be made liable under Regulation 33 of SOLAS 74.”

SOLAS refers to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. Regulation 33 of SOLAS obliges masters of ships to respond to any distress signals at sea. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.