Owner claims Chinese hit PH vessel ‘intentionally’
The owner of the Philippine fishing boat and a relative of the boat’s captain believe a Chinese vessel “intentionally” rammed the boat and abandoned its crew when it sank in the South China Sea on Sunday.
“How could they (Chinese) not see it when the boat had its lights on?” said Rocky Insigne, a cousin of Junel Insigne, 43, captain of the fishing boat Gem-Vir 1.
The boat owner, Ma. Se de la Torre, 34, said both the Gem-Vir 1 and the Chinese vessel had their signal lights on before the crash.
De la Torre said the weather was fine so “that some of our men were actually fishing when they were hit.”
The Chinese vessel hit the rear of the 14.38-ton Gem-Vir 1, which carried 22 men, all from San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, around midnight on Sunday.
De la Torre said the Gem-Vir 1 was anchored at Recto Bank, a rich fishing ground known internationally as Reed Bank.
“Our men panicked. They realized the boat’s anchor somehow got hooked to [the Chinese boat and that they were being dragged away. So what our men did was to cut the ropes to free themselves,” De la Torre said.
Insigne said the Chinese vessel simply sailed away as the Gem-Vir 1 began to sink.
“The Chinese even turned their vessel’s lights off,” he said.
The Inquirer interviewed Insigne and De la Torre separately by phone on Thursday as they and the families of the other crew members waited for the men to come home.
The crew was able to contact the De la Torre early Monday using the radio of the Vietnamese boat that rescued them.
“It took hours before help came. Our men were clinging to [plastic] drums [that floated after their boat sank] when the Vietnamese boat passed by,” De la Torre said.
The Filipino fishermen stayed on the Vietnamese boat until Wednesday and were able to contact other Filipino fishing boats by radio and asked for help to pull their sunken vessel out of the water.
De la Torre’s husband, Felix, sailed to Recto Bank on another boat to tow the Gem-Vir 1 home. He reached the sandbank on Wednesday.
Felix and the 22 crew members of the Gem-Vir transferred to a Philippine Navy ship that left Recto Bank at noon on Thursday.
“This was the first time something like this happened. Why would the Chinese do that?” De la Torre said.
Both she and Insigne, however, could not say if the hit-and-run was a fishing boat or a militia vessel, but said the crew insisted it belonged to the Chinese.
De la Torre said the Gem-Vir 1 left San Jose on May 28 and the crew had already caught three tons of lapu-lapu and other fish when the boat was struck.
“We’re just thankful all our men are safe. But they lost their belongings and clothes, our equipment, the radios, the GPS apparatus,” De la Torre said.
“We lost the catch that they should have taken back home to their families,” she said.
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