MANILA, Philippines – The initial report of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on the Recto Bank incident recommended that the captain of the Chinese ship that rammed into a Filipino fishing boat be held accountable for not responding to distress signals at sea.
A copy of the 4-page initial report, obtained by Rappler, recommended that the master of the ship, identified by China as Yuemaobinyu 42212, be held liable for violating the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
The document is entitled "Initial Investigation Report Re Collision Incident Involving 'FBCA GIM-VER'." A PCG source confirmed to Rappler that this report indeed came from the PCG but was not the final official report.
The final report was submitted to Malacañang on June 20. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also told Rappler he received his copy of the report on Thursday, July 4.
The initial report was put together by the PCG's Maritime Casualty Investigation Service, a fact-finding body in the PCG that probes maritime accidents.
One of the report's recommendations read: "The master of the vessel that collided with FBCA Gim-Ver (Fishing Boat Gem-Ver) be made liable under Regulation 33 of SOLAS 74."
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Regulation 33 of SOLAS obliges masters of ships to respond to any distress signals at sea.
"The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance," read the first clause of Regulation 33.
"This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found," it further said.
Under SOLAS, if the ship is unable to help the distressed party or considers it unreasonable or unnecessary, the master should have indicated in the ship's logbook their reason for not providing assistance. They should have also informed the appropriate search and rescue servic, according to the international convention.
The report attested to how the Chinese ship abandoned the Gem-Ver crew. (READ: TIMELINE: Sinking of a Filipino boat in West PH Sea by Chinese ship)
"The said vessel, which passed by their submerged FBCA (fishing boat) after the collision has managed to manuever astern and spotted them with a searchlight. However, upon seeing the crew of the said FBCA floating in the water, the said fishing vessel immediately turned off its search light and immediately left from the scene without extending any help," read the initial PCG report.
Filipino boat had 'no lookout'
The same initial report said the crew of F/B Gem-Ver were at fault for not assigning a lookout that night, which could have prevented the ramming from taking place.
"They were not detailing a designated lookout which is in violation of Rule 5 of the COLREG 72," read the report, which based the detail on the account of Gem-Ver captain Junel Insigne.
COLREG 72 refers to the Collision Regulations or Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972.
"It is therefore possible that the approaching vessel failed to notice that there is an anchored vessel ahead," the report added.
The report, however, confirmed media interviews with the crew that the boat's cook, Richard Blaza, was the first to catch sight of the Chinese ship. However, the report said Blaza was not technically a lookout since he had only been awake in order to cook.
Blaza's warning, said the document, was "too late" to warn the rest of the crew of imminent danger.
Though there was no lookout, the report attested that Gem-Ver had two lights on.
"The display of anchor light and white flashing light by FBCA Gim-Ver (F/B Gem-Ver) was in compliance [with] Rule 30 of Collision Regulation (COLREG 72)," it said.
Because of the lack of a lookout, another recommendation of the report was for the government and the owner of Gem-Ver to "make regulations for fishing vessels to strictly adhere with COLREG 72."
'Serious marine casualty'
While President Rodrigo Duterte once described the ramming as a "side swipe" and a "little maritime incident," and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi once said it was a mere "daplis (graze)," the initial PCG report said the Chinese ship's impact caused Gem-Ver to "break into two."
The report classified the incident as a "serious marine casualty," based on the assessment of the Maritime Safety Investigation Team (MSIT).
"The MSIT came to the assessment that the incident is considered a serious marine casualty (SMC) due [to] total damage of property," read the document.
The assessment was based on the Code of the International Standards and Recommended Practices for Safety Investigation into a Marine Casualty or Marine Incident.
After the ramming, the boat's boom "ran through the structures" of the fishing boat and "almost instantly," Gem-Ver was submerged.
Another crucial difference was the report confirmed that while Blaza was the first to see the Chinese vessel, others were already awake by the time the vessel hit their boat.
This was in contrast to Panelo and Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol's assertions that only Blaza was awake when the Chinese ship made impact.
"Iisa lang pala nakakaalam noong pangyayaring iyon dahil tulog lahat iyong fishermen (Only one knew about what happened because the rest were asleep)," Panelo said in a June 18 press conference, echoing the "initial findings" of Piñol.
Waiting for PCG-Marina investigation results
Duterte has so far refrained from personally condemning the abandonment of the Filipino fishermen, saying he prefered to wait for the results of a comprehensive investigation into what happened.
After this initial report, the PCG and the Maritime Industry Authority crafted a joint report which was submitted to Malacañang, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
The government had yet to make public the contents of that report.
The joint probe entails Philippine and China working groups coming together to compare findings of their separate investigations and releasing a joint statement on the matter, according to Panelo.
Duterte had suggested the involvement of a "neutral" third party to resolve any differences in findings. But China, according to Panelo, thumbed down the proposal, saying it was confident the two versions would be consistent. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.