Philippines threatens to cut ties with China over boat sinking

Activists hold placards with anti-China slogans during a protest in front of the Chinese consulate in Manila on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2019

Philippines threatens to cut ties with China over boat sinking

  • Anger grows over ‘cowardly action’ that left 22 seamen fearing for their lives
  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said he has already filed a diplomatic protest over the incident.

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippines is prepared to cut diplomatic ties with China if it is shown that the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in the disputed South China Sea was intentional, a Malacanang spokesperson said on Thursday.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said he has already filed a diplomatic protest over the incident.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said a Chinese vessel is believed to have collided with the Filipino fishing boat near Recto Bank around midnight on Sunday, June 9. The Filipino vessel, the FB Gimver1, was reportedly anchored at the time of the incident. 

The Philippine government strongly condemned “the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew” for abandoning 22 Filipino fishermen as their boat sank.

The fishermen were rescued six hours laters by a Vietnamese fishing vessel that brought them to safety with help from the Philippines Armed Forces’ (AFP) Western Command (Wescom).

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, said that if the sinking was intentional, “it’s an act of aggression.”

“We will cut off diplomatic relations if there are aggressive acts. First, we will file a diplomatic protest. If we are not content with their explanation, (and) we find out that it was intentional, that will be another story,” Panelo said.

“We will not allow ourselves to be assaulted, bullied or to be the subject of such barbaric, uncivilized and outrageous actions from any source.” He said Malacanang had called on the Chinese government to investigate the collision.

“We don’t exactly know what ship was involved. We want to find out first,” he said.

The government will also wait for China’s response to the diplomatic protest.

Panelo said there was no need for the Philippine government to summon the Chinese ambassador to explain the incident.

“If he’s listening now, he should explain,” he said.

According to the spokesperson, Duterte was “outraged” by the incident.

“Whether the collision was accidental or intentional, common decency and the dictates of humanity require the immediate saving of the crew of the Philippine vessel,” said Panelo.

He said the territorial dispute between the countries should not be “an impediment for the offending vessel to lend a hand to the distressed crew.” 

“The captain and the crew of the Chinese vessel should not have left the injured party without any assistance or succor. Such act of desertion is as inhuman as it is barbaric. It is clear violation of maritime protocols as well as an infringement of internationally accepted practice of assisting a vessel in distress,” said Panelo.

Philippine Navy (PN) Flag Officer-in-Command, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, said that regardless of who is at fault in a collision at sea, vessels that sustained minimal or no damage are obligated to rescue seamen whose lives are under threat.

He said this rule is mandated by the “seafarer’s conscience” and is recognized under international maritime law.

Meanwhile, an expert on maritime accident investigation, has urged caution until more is known about the collision.

“At this moment there is no smoking gun that the offending vessel was Chinese. I advise caution, given the obvious tension. Such incidents usually have fault on both sides,” Bob Couttie told Arab News.

“I doubt the deliberate ramming of an unidentified vessel at the risk of severe damage to one’s own in the dead of night. I would look at watch-keeping practices on both vessels, if possible,” he said.

“Poor watch-keeping is the most common cause of such incidents.”

Nigeria death toll rises in Boko Haram triple suicide bombing

Updated 17 June 2019

Nigeria death toll rises in Boko Haram triple suicide bombing

  • Three bombers detonated their explosives outside a hall in Konduga

Thirty people were killed late Sunday in a triple suicide bombing in northeast Nigeria, emergency services reported, in an attack bearing the hallmarks of the Boko Haram militant group.

Three bombers detonated their explosives outside a hall in Konduga, 38 kilometers from the Borno state capital Maiduguri, where football fans were watching a match on TV.

“The death toll from the attack has so far increased to 30. We have over 40 people injured,” Usman Kachalla, head of operations at the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), said on Monday.

An earlier toll from the blasts, the bloodiest in months, gave 17 dead and 17 wounded.

The attack happened around 9:00 P.M., Ali Hassan, the leader of a self-defense group in the town, said.

The owner of hall prevented one of the bombers from entering the packed venue.

“There was a heated argument between the operator and the bomber who blew himself up,” Hassan said by phone.

Two other bombers who had mingled among the crowd at a tea stall nearby also detonated their suicide vests.

Hassan said most of the victims were from outside the soccer viewing center.

“Nine people died on the spot, including the operator, and 48 were injured,” Hassan said.

Kachala said the high number of fatalities was because emergency responders had been unable to reach the site of the blast quickly.

Nor were they equipped to deal with large numbers of wounded.

“Lack of an appropriate health facility to handle such huge emergency situation and the delay in obtaining security clearance to enable us deploy from Maiduguri in good time led to the high death toll,” he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the imprint of Boko Haram, which has led a decade-long campaign to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

The last suicide attack was in April this year when two female suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the garrison town of Monguno, killing a soldier and a vigilante and injuring another soldier.

Konduga has been repeatedly targeted by suicide bombers from a Boko Haram faction loyal to longtime leader Abubakar Shekau.

The faction typically carries out suicide attacks against soft civilian targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations, often using young women and girls as bombers.

The militants are believed to sneak into the town from the group’s haven in nearby Sambisa forest.

Eight worshippers were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in the town last July.

Boko Haram insurgency has claimed 27,000 lives and forced some two million to flee their homes.

The violence has spilled into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting the formation of a regional military coalition to battle the insurgents.