Final PCG-Marina report: Chinese ship failed to prevent sea collision

Pia Ranada

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Final PCG-Marina report: Chinese ship failed to prevent sea collision
The Chinese ship abandoned the Filipino crew of F/B Gem-Ver despite 'direct knowledge of their distress situation,' in violation of two maritime conventions, according to the official findings of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority

SUBMERGED. This is a photo of F/B Gem-Ver after it was hit by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea. Sourced photo

MANILA, Philippines – The Chinese vessel involved in the Recto Bank incident failed to undertake measures to avoid colliding with the Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver and eventually abandoned the boat’s crew, in violation of maritime laws.

These were among the official findings of the joint investigation carried out by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).

The final report, dated June 20, was obtained by Rappler and confirmed by two sources. This was the report that was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr as the country prepares to compare findings with China.

The 14-page report is entitled, “Joint PCG-Marina Marine Safety Investigation on the Incident Involving ‘FBCA Gem-Ver.’” 

One of its conclusions was that the Chinese vessel “was found to have failed to take appropriate action to avoid the risk of collision and to render assistance to a vessel in distress.” (READ: TIMELINE: Sinking of Filipino boat in West PH Sea by Chinese ship)

The report stopped short of declaring whether or not the ramming was intentional. But it did say that the Chinese ship could have taken steps to avoid hitting the “anchored” Filipino fishing boat.

The report stated that power-driven vessels in motion “shall keep out of the way of a vessel not under command or a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver.”

This is stipulated in Rule 18 of the Collision Regulations or Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREG 72).

The document also attested that F/B Gem-Ver had two lights on –anchor lights of round white lights displayed fore and aft, and white flashing light displayed in its mast. This means the Filipino boat complied with maritime regulations (specifically Rule 30 of COLREG 72) meant to prevent sea accidents.

The weather that night was “fair” and benefited from the light of “starry skies” and a first quarter moon, reads the report. The sea was calm and visibility “slightly clear.” These details meant there were no external factors that could have hindered the Chinese vessel from seeing Gem-Ver and avoiding a collision.

Confirms abandonment

The report also categorically stated that the Chinese ship knew of the dire situation of the Gem-Ver crew after their boat was hit yet refused to help.

“By maneuvering back and stopping approximately 50 meters away from FB ‘Gem-Ver’ with her fishing lights open, the other vessel can be considered to have direct knowledge of the distress situation,” read the document.

Thus, the Chinese ship was found to have violated two maritime laws – the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). 

“Every state shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or passengers; after a collision to render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers,” read Part VII, Article 98 of UNCLOS.

Under Regulation 33 of SOLAS, “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.”

However, unlike the PCG’s initial report, this final document does not explicitly say the Chinese ship captain should be held liable for abandoning the Filipino fishermen.

In fact, the joint report said at the beginning that its objectives did not include finding out who should be held liable for any harm or violations.

“In accordance with the Casualty Investigation Code, the purpose of this marine safety investigation shall be to….Not seek to apportion blame or determine liability,” the final report said.

The document only recommended that a request be made to the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration that they conduct their own investigation. 

Other key points

  • The PCG and Marina investigators said that the incident took place within the Phiippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • Philippine authorities said the Gem-Ver fishermen also violated maritime regulations by not assigning a lookout on the night it was hit by the Chinese ship, echoing the initial PCG report. The lookout could have called attention to the ship’s approach earlier, thus preventing the ramming.
  • The report did not include any account of “7 or 8” Filipino fishing boats boats “besieging” the Chinese vessel, as claimed by the Chinese Embassy in its June 14 statement. The embassy had claimed it was because of the presence of these other boats that the Chinese ship decided to leave the crew of F/B Gem-Ver, but  omitted  it in a later official statement. 
  • The report made no conclusion about the nature of the Chinese ship – whether it was purely a private vessel or one used by China’s maritime militia. It could only say that, based on boat captain Junel Insigne’s sketch of the ship, it appeared “similar to the Chinese fishing vessels seen fishing in the area.” It referred to the ship as an “unidentified Chinese fishing vessel.”
  • The report classified the incident as a “very serious marine casualty” due to the total loss of the boat which the initial PCG report described as broken in two after the incident. This is in contrast to government officials downplaying the damage and impact of the ramming. President Rodrigo Duterte himself described the impact as a mere “side swipe” while Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the Filipino boat was only “grazed” (“daplis lang“). 

What’s next?

After wrapping up investigations, the Philippine government will share findings with the Chinese government in a joint probe initiated by China.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo had earlier said the two governments would form their own “task forces” or “working groups” and that these groups would then meet to compare probe results. The two governments would then issue a joint statement.

But details of this joint probe remain hazy. Malacañang had yet to name the officials in the working group nor when China would be expected to finish its own investigation.

Lawmakers and maritime law experts have warned that agreeing to a joint probe with China weakened the Philippines’ position and could get in the way of holding the Chinese crew accountable.

Critics also called on the Duterte government to impose sanctions on the Chinese crew for violating the Fisheries Code, which imposes fines on foreign fishing vessels found in Philippine waters.

Read the full report below:


Related stories, in-depth reports, analyses, videos, podcasts: The sinking of a Philippine boat in West Philippine Sea

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.