MANILA: A leading Philippines judge has described the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel as a “quantum escalation” of Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea.
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio late on Friday said it was highly likely a Chinese maritime militia vessel had rammed the Filipino fishing boat F/B Gimver 1 on June 9 in Recto Bank.
Carpio warned that the incident “may signal the start of a new ‘gray zone’ offensive by China to drive away Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) in the same way that the Chinese are driving away Vietnamese fishing vessels in the Paracel Islands.”
“The Filipino people must send a strong signal to China that any new ‘grey zone’ offensive of ramming Filipino fishing vessels in the West Philippines Sea will mean a break of diplomatic ties with China,” he said.
The Philippines must take a strong stand against China’s latest aggressive act and demand compensation for the owner of the fishing vessel as well as punishment for the captain and crew of the Chinese vessel, he said.
Carpio said that Chinese maritime militia vessels were built with reinforced steel hulls purposely for ramming fishing boats of other coastal states.
“No other coastal state has fishing vessels designed for ramming other fishing vessels. Captains of ordinary Chinese fishing vessels do not engage in ramming for fear of damaging their own vessels,” he said.
The captain and crew of the Filipino boat have claimed that a Chinese fishing vessel rammed their boat. Reports also quoted the rescued crew as saying that their boat had its lights on when it was struck.
“It was around midnight. We were anchored and were showing a lot of white (bright) lights to signal our position when a ship suddenly appeared out of nowhere and hit us. I was trying to start our engine when we were hit in the stern,” Junel Insigne, the boat’s captain, said.
“After the ramming, they returned and turned their lights on us to make sure that our boat was submerged before they left.”
Carpio said that the ramming of the Filipino boat was a violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“China’s maritime militia vessels have been ramming Vietnamese vessels in the Paracels for several years now. However, this is the first time a Chinese maritime militia vessel has rammed a Filipino fishing boat,” he said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila on Friday admitted that a Chinese fishing vessel had been involved in the incident. In a statement posted on its official Twitter account, the embassy identified the vessel as Yuemaobinyu 42212 from Guangdong Province.
However, it claimed the boat was “berthed” in the area when it was “besieged” by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats.
The Chinese captain “tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen, but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats,” it said.
The embassy added that the Chinese vessel sailed away from the scene only after confirming that “the fishermen from the Filipino boat were rescued and on board other Filipino fishing boats.”
“There was no such thing as a hit-and-run,” it said.