China claims ship 'besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino boats'

MANILA, Philippines – While admitting one of their own was involved, China denied a Chinese ship sank a Filipino boat in a "hit-and-run" incident in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In a statement Friday evening, June 14, the Chinese embassy claimed the Chinese vessel was in fact "besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats," preventing it from rescuing the Filipino fishermen from their sunken boat.

China said the Chinese fishing boat Yuemaobinyu 42212 "engaged in a light purse seine operation" and "was berthed" in the vicinity of Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea "at 2400 hours on June 9, 2019."

Referring to the Chinese vessel, the embassy said: "It was suddenly besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats. During evacuation, 42212 failed to shun a Filipino fishing boat, and its steel cable on the lighting grid of larboard bumped into the Filipino pilothouse. The Filipino fishing boat tilted and its stern foundered." 

"The Chinese captain tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen, but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats. Therefore, having confirmed the fishermen from the Filipino boat were rescued on board of other Filipino fishing boats, 42212 sailed away from the scene," the embassy added.

"The above shows that there is no such thing as 'hit and run,'" it said.

China then vowed "to properly handle this issue with the Philippines in a serious and responsible manner," as it "attaches great importance to China-Philippines friendship and safety of life at sea."

"The two sides are maintaining close communication through diplomatic channels," the Chinese embassy said.

China's statement is the latest twist in this unprecedented episode in the dispute between Manila and Beijing over the West Philippine Sea. The incident took place near Recto Bank, an oil-rich underwater reef formation that belongs to the Philippines but is coveted by China.

Junel Insigne, captain of the Filipino FB Gem-vir, said on Friday he was sure a Chinese ship had rammed their boat on June 9. He said the Chinese ship intentionally sank their vessel.

The Filipino fishermen said the Chinese ship fled the area after sinking their boat. The Filipinos had to wait for hours before they spotted a friendly Vietnamese vessel, which rescued them. (READ: INSIDE STORY: How Filipino crew were saved by Vietnamese in West PH Sea– Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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