Palace: Wrong Hong Kong ship | Global News

Palace: Wrong Hong Kong ship

Survivor says it’s not Peach Mountain

MV Peach Mountain. Willie Lomibao/contributor

One of the fishermen who survived a maritime accident in the West Philippine Sea on June 20 said Tuesday it may not have been the Hong Kong-registered MV Peach Mountain that struck and destroyed his boat, killing one of his companions and leaving four others missing.

Malacañang also said that the Peach Mountain was not the vessel involved in the accident.

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Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said, however, that efforts had begun to find the vessel, which was another Hong Kong-registered ship.

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The government has not yet contacted Hong Kong authorities, however, about the incident, as investigators had yet to determine which vessel was involved in the accident, Lacierda said.

Herman Balmores said the ship that hit his fishing boat, the AXL John, had markings on its stern that read “Hong Kong.” Running under those words, he said, were markings similar to markings on mahjong tiles, which could be Chinese characters.

The Philippine Coast Guard on Monday said that its investigation found that only one foreign vessel passed through the area where the accident happened and it was the Hong Kong-registered, 195-meter bulk carrier MV Peach Mountain.

Not the one

Shown the picture of the Peach Mountain that appeared on the front page of Tuesday’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Balmores said, “This is not the one.”

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He said the Peach Mountain’s body color, as shown in the photo, looked similar to the color of the vessel that struck his boat, but the blue of that vessel was faded.

On Monday, Balmores told reporters that the large vessel was light blue and red. “It was high so we could not see if it was loaded,” he said.

The MV Peach Mountain also has markings on the stern that show its name in large Roman characters. Under its name, there’s a marking, also in Roman characters, that reads “Hong Kong.”

Unrelated to dispute

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, and the Chinese Embassy in Manila was displeased with news reports published on Monday that said the offending vessel was a Chinese ship.

The accident happened just as China and the Philippines were trying to find a diplomatic solution to their dispute over Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the incident was not related to the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

On Monday, President Benigno Aquino said the government was not blaming any country for the accident while the investigation was going on.

On Tuesday, defense officials called a news conference to tone down the Coast Guard’s report on Monday.

“It is possible that it was the Peach Mountain that hit them. It is also possible that it was not the Peach Mountain because of the course and the speed of the ship based on the distance where it happened,” Gazmin said.

Gazmin controverted survivor accounts that the hit-and-run vessel was marked “Hong Kong.”

Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, the Navy commander, said that based on the monitored course and speed of the Peach Mountain, it was unlikely that the cargo vessel was in the vicinity of the location of the AXL John when the fishing boat was hit.

90 vessels

Pama said the Coast Watch Station in Zambales province monitored “no less than 90 cargo ships” in the vicinity of the estimated location of the AXL John, about 144 kilometers (78 nautical miles) northwest of Bolinao, 24 hours before and after the accident.

“We are looking at no less than 90 (vessels) and at this point we are not discounting anybody,” he said.

Pama did not say, however, how many of those vessels were registered in Hong Kong.

He said the area was a “nautical highway” and a traditional fishing area for Filipino fishermen.

Pama said the Peach Mountain was among the ships that had been monitored to be somewhere off San Narciso, Zambales, moving north at the speed of 10.1 knots at about 8:45 a.m. on June 20.

It wasn’t there

Based on its course and speed, the cargo vessel was estimated to be 240 km (130 nautical miles) from the area where the AXL John was struck. The accident happened at about 1 p.m. on June 20.

“So if we are just going to compute on the basis of the speed of the ship at 9 in the morning, she cannot be in that (area where the accident happened), which is 130 nautical miles away,” Pama said.

“However, this is not a definitive conclusion since, as we all know, there are other factors that may increase or decrease the speed of a vessel,” Pama said.

If the Peach Mountain maintained its speed of 10.1 knots, he said, “it would take her 13 hours to be in the location where the incident happened.”

Another vessel

But because of the prevailing southwest monsoon, “it’s also possible that the ship [went] faster and it’s also possible it maintained its speed,” Pama said.

“We are still checking. This is not a definitive or conclusive report because we are also checking other sources of data,” he added.

Pama said investigators had not discounted the possibility that the ship responsible for the accident was another one that was moving to the south, even if the survivors reported that the vessel that hit their boat was moving northward.

“That is also not conclusive given the fact that they have been at sea for the past three days, they may have been disoriented,” Pama said.

Pama also said that even though the fishermen saw Hong Kong markings on the ship, “it only means that the ship was registered in Hong Kong but it does not necessarily mean that it is owned by Chinese or it’s owned by the Chinese government.”

They were not hit

Gazmin said Balmores, in a sworn statement given to the Navy in Bolinao on Monday, stated that the foreign vessel passed by his boat, but did not hit it.

Quoting from the Navy report on its interview with Balmores, Gazmin said the eight fishermen’s boat was at first tied to a payaw, an artificial reef made of bamboo sticks, “but because of bad weather and strong waves, their fishing boat came loose and was almost submerged.”

“When the ship came, Balmores claims that the ship passed near them but did not actually ram them,” Gazmin said.

“However, it also did not stop to rescue them,” Gazmin said, contradicting the statements made by Balmores and his brother in interviews with reporters that the vessel rammed and destroyed their boat.

Gazmin said Balmores reiterated to the Navy interviewers that he saw the marking “Hong Kong,” with Chinese characters written under it, on the vessel’s stern.

We were hit

In Bolinao, Balmores’ brother Emedio, operator of the AXL John, insisted that the cargo vessel hit his boat.

He said the cargo vessel could not have missed detecting his boat, as the fishing boat was equipped with a metal radar reflector.

The larger vessel’s navigational instruments would certainly have detected the fishing boat on the water even from a great distance, Balmores said.

The AXL John’s twin engines had conked out and the fishing boat was moored to an artificial reef when the cargo ship hoved into sight.

“The ship should have avoided us,” Balmores said. “Our boat was half-submerged at that time and our engines conked out,” he said, explaining why he and his companions were unable to remove the boat out of the way of the oncoming ship.

He said the large ship sailed straight and hit the fishing boat, smashing it into pieces.

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Fishermen from Ilocos Sur rescued four survivors, one of whom died in a hospital in Vigan City on Sunday. Four remained missing as of Tuesday. The Coast Guard sent a helicopter in search of the four missing fishermen. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Christine O. Avendaño and Jerome Aning

For comprehensive coverage, in-depth analysis, and the latest updates on the West Philippine Sea issue, visit our special site here. Stay informed with articles, videos, and expert opinions.

TAGS: accidents, Benigno Aquino, China, Foreign affairs, Global Nation, Government, Hong Kong, maritime dispute, MV Peach Mountain, Pangasinan Boat Sinking, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippines, Scarborough Shoal, West Philippine Sea

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