Philippines assures Vietnam of 'fair' probe into fishermen's deaths

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government assured Vietnam of a "fair and thorough investigation" into the deaths of two Vietnamese fishermen in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), off the coast of Pangasinan, last Saturday, September 23.

In a statement on Monday, September 25, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano spoke to Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh during an informal meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York.

The DFA said Cayetano told Minh: "We would like to offer our sympathies over the unfortunate loss of life and give you our assurance that we will conduct a fair and thorough investigation into this matter."

Cayetano also told his Vietnamese counterpart that the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, and Philippine National Police all sent investigating teams to Pangasinan.

Lieutenant Jose Covarrubias, spokesman of the Naval Forces Northern Luzon, earlier said that the bodies of the two Vietnamese nationals were found aboard a foreign fishing boat that trespassed into Philippine waters to illegally fish inside the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Vietnamese fishing boat reportedly rammed a Philippine Navy vessel which was moving towards it to arrest the fishermen. Five other fishermen were later arrested.

The DFA said those who were arrested "will be accorded proper treatment" and "can be accessed anytime" by Vietnamese embassy officials.

According to the DFA, there are reports that there were up to 6 Vietnamese fishing boats inside the Philippines' EEZ during the incident.

"According to the reports, the Navy patrol boat, which was then en route to Subic, went after the Vietnamese fishing vessels. In the ensuing chase, one of the Vietnamese boats initiated very dangerous maneuvers that resulted in it slamming into the left front and left center of the Philippine patrol vessel," said the DFA.

"The reports said this prompted personnel on board the Navy vessel to fire warning shots and when the Navy personnel boarded the fishing vessel, they found two dead Vietnamese fishermen. Five others surrendered and were taken into custody."