MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The owner of a Vietnamese boat broke his silence and recounted on Tuesday, June 18, how the 10 Vietnamese crew of his vessel rescued 22 Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Ngo Van Theng, owner of the Vietnamese boat, spoke to the Vietnamese state-run news website VNExpress on Tuesday.
Theng owns the Vietnamese fishing boat TGTG-90983-TS.
This boat rescued the 22 Filipino fishermen of F/B Gem-Ver, which was sunk by a Chinese ship in Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea.
Theng told VNExpress, "After working as a fisherman for many years, this is the first time that my family's ship has rescued another vessel, especially a foreign ship. I believe that anyone who heads out to sea would have done the same thing, not just us."
Theng said his boat was anchored at around 1 am on June 10 when the voices of foreign-speaking men roused them from sleep. The Filipinos used hand gestures to communicate.
"At first, the Vietnamese captain feared they were pirates but they were soaked wet and shivering. He guessed they'd had an accident and were seeking help," VNExpress reported.
The Filipinos then brought the Vietnamese to their sunken boat, which was one hour away.
"The Vietnamese crew found a group of 20 Filipino fishermen wearing life jackets clinging on to plastic barrels and pieces of wood from a sunken boat. They were tired, hungry, and cold," according to the Vietnamese news website.
"The 10 fishermen from Tien Giang took them to their boat and fed them rice and instant noodles, and helped them get warm after many hours of struggling in the sea for their lives," it added.
Theng's family "has been in the seafaring career for more than 30 years and runs 7 fishing boats," according to VNExpress. He added that this "was the second sailing of the year," and that the boat "was scheduled to come back to shore after 40 days."
In a tweet on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said of the Vietnamese boat: “The report we have is that the vessel had gone on to finish its fishing expedition (huh, ironic) for maybe 3 more weeks and that its only communication is by cell.”
“So now Vietnam has tracked it down and journalists at that. I guess state journalism works,” Locsin added.
The Vietnamese account is largely consistent with the account of the Filipino fishermen of F/B Gem-Ver, which is now doubted by the Philippine government. (READ: INSIDE STORY: How Filipino crew were saved by Vietnamese in West PH Sea)
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, in a press conference on Tuesday, admitted doubts about the story of F/B Gem-Ver's captain, Junel Insigne. One of these doubts involves whether the Chinese ship intentionally rammed F/B Gem-Ver, as Insigne said, or not.
Panelo said that because of new circumstances, "there is now a doubt" if the Filipino captain's version is true. "Kaya nga kailangan maimbestigahan na (That's why we need to investigate it)," he said. – Rappler.com
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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 email@example.com.