West Philippine Sea

Ramming of Philippine fishing ship Dearyn an ‘accident.’ What’s next?

Bea Cupin

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Ramming of Philippine fishing ship Dearyn an ‘accident.’ What’s next?

The surviving crew members of the Dearyn arrive at Barangay Cato, Infanta, Pangasinan on October 2, 2023, after its mother ship was 'rammed by an unidentified commercial vessel transiting the vicinity waters off Bajo de Masinloc.

Photo courtesy of the Philippine Coast Guard

The Philippines earlier promised to hold to account those responsible for the incident

MANILA, Philippines – Johnny Manlolon remembered little about the Pacific Anna, the crude oil tanker that rammed onto the Dearyn, the mother boat that he and 13 others called home while fishing in the West Philippine Sea.

The 40-year-old remembered that the Pacific Anna towered over the Dearyn, their fishing boat. Other details about the incident were scant – the weather was “adverse” in the early hours of Monday, October 2, so visibility was poor. Johnny himself did not see the huge tanker approaching their ship.

It there was one other detail that he remembered about the tanker, it was the color red. After plowing through the Dearyn, the Pacific Anna left behind fragments of red paint that got chipped from its hull. Three of Johnny’s fellow fishermen – 47-year-old captain Dexter Laudencia, 38-year-old Romeo Mejeco, and 62-year-old Benedicto Olandria – died as a result of the collision.

Ahead of the full probe into the incident, Philippines Coast Guard PCG officials and even Malolon said that it was an accident. The PCG said that because of bad weather and poor visibility, it’s possible that the Pacific Anna did not see that it was going to hit the Dearyn, which was attached to a payao, or an anchored fish float.

“Accident po ‘yan. Wala naman nagkagusto na magka banggaan] (It was an accident. Nobody wanted the two ships to collide),” PCG commandant Admiral Artemio Abu said in a press conference in Manila on Thursday, October 5. Abu and other PCG officials were flanked by both survivors of the collision – the three fisherfolk stationed at the Dearyn – and the eight crew members who were out fishing when the Pacific Anna hit the boat.

Bigla lang kaming tumaob. Pagkatapos noon, naglalag na kami sa tubig. ‘Di ko na po alam ano ang sunod nangyari tapos kanya-kanya na kaming languyan,” said Manlolon, recalling the aftermath of the collision. (Suddenly, our boat capsized. After that, we fell into the water. I don’t remember what happened next but at that point, we had to fend for ourselves.)

Manlolon eventually tracked down another crew mate before finding the remains of one of the three who died from the collision. Hours later, the eight who had gone out to fish when the accident happened returned to the site where the Dearyn was once stationed. Aboard eight small fishing boats, the crew of the Dearyn – including its three dead – were finally back on land, in Pangasinan.

Where to sue?

The Philippine government has promised to hold to account those responsible for the ramming – even if it was an accident.

But where will the process take place?

The Pacific Anna is registered under the flag of Marshall Islands. Based on public records, it departed from Incheon and was set to dock in Singapore.

The PCG’s investigation is meant to thresh out the details of the incident – precautions or lack thereof, among them. Manlolon said that the Dearyn had the proper lights installed, but could not say himself if the Pacific Anna was able to spot it in the dark. He was also unsure if the tanker would have felt the impact of hitting the Dearyn, given its sheer size.

What the government has yet to announce is the other details of the Pacific Anna – who owns the ship and the nationalities of its crew members. It’s the latter detail that would prove to be important down the line.

Lawyer Romel Bagares, in an interview with Rappler, cited Article 97 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It states: “In the event of a collision or any other incident of navigation concerning a ship on the high seas, involving the penal or disciplinary responsibility of the master or of any other person in the service of the ship, 60 no penal or disciplinary proceedings may be instituted against such person except before the judicial or administrative authorities either of the flag State or of the State of which such person is a national.”

That means that the judicial process in the case of the Dearyn and the Pacific Anna can happen in the Marshall Islands or in the state in which the captain or other responsible officers are nationals of.

In February 2016, two Filipino seafarers were prosecuted when the Liberian container ship MV Ernest Hemingway collided with the Korean fishing boat Gunyang within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of South Korea on January 16, 2015.

The incident led to the death of two Korean fisherfolk and an oil spill of 600 liters into the ocean. The Philippines later asserted jurisdiction over the two Filipino seafarers, citing UNCLOS. After a year of detention in Korea and before they could be transferred to Philippine custody, the case was dismissed.

There’s a difference between the Gunyang case and the Dearyn case – the Gunyang was hit within the South Korean EEZ. The Philippines, meanwhile, has yet to define its baselines after the 2016 arbitral ruling that it won over China.

How will the probe go?

Since the Pacific Anna has already reached Singapore, the PCG has asked Singaporean port officials to “exercise their over riding priority to conduct inspection on MV Pacific Anna even though said vessel is not yet due for inspection,” according to PCG spokesperson Rear Admiral Armand Balilio.

“The inspection should be targeted in the Vessels compliance with the regulations of SOLAS Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) the result of their inspection could be used in our investigation,” he added.

Boat, Transportation, Vehicle
DEARYN. The PCG releases a photo of the Dearyn on October 6., 2023.

The Philippines, through the PCG, has also asked the Marshall Islands to begin its own probe. “We can use the result of their investigation in pursuit for claims and damages for the boat owner, victims and survivors of FB Dearyn,” Balilo added.

PCG personnel have gone to in Singapore as part their probe. The Philippines is also working on recovering the Dearyn as of Friday, October 6.

Once the PCG wraps up its investigation, the report be forward to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.