Taiwan demands PH probe killing, apology
MANILA, Philippines—A Taiwanese fisherman was shot dead after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) fired at a Taiwanese fishing boat that the PCG said had tried to ram its vessel near Batanes province on Thursday.
The PCG explained that its people had acted in self-defense and were only performing their duty of stopping illegal fishing and poaching inside Philippine territory.
PCG Commandant Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena has nonetheless ordered a thorough investigation, and the 11 PCG personnel on board the MCS 3001, the vessel involved, have been relieved.
The 30-meter-long MCS 3001 belongs to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and was jointly manned by personnel from the PCG and the BFAR.
The two BFAR employees on board the vessel have also been relieved pending the results of the investigation, said BFAR Director Asis Perez, and the MCS 3001’s commanding officer has already been directed to come to Manila to explain the incident.
“This is to ensure that there will be a transparent and impartial investigation,” Perez said.
According to the China Post report, the name of the Taiwanese fishing vessel was Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28. It quoted a sailor from the vessel as saying that they were fishing 315 kilometers (170 nautical miles) off the southern tip of Taiwan “when they came under attack.”
The sailor said “Philippine naval forces” opened fire with machine guns without any warning, killing Hung Shih-chen, 65, the father of the boat’s skipper.
Another witness said the fishing boat was attacked by Philippine naval cannon.
Taiwan’s coast guard dispatched a vessel to rescue the fishing boat which suffered engine failure after the alleged attack, the China Post report said. Two Taiwanese fishing vesels helped to tow the Kuan Ta Hsing No. 28 back to Taiwan under escort of the CGA, the paper reported.
The incident occurred in waters off northern Philippines— 80 km (43 nautical miles) off the Philippines’ Balintang Channel and 315 km (170 nautical miles) southeast of Taiwan—where the economic zones of the Philippines and Taiwan, extending 370 km (200 nautical miles) from shore, overlap.
Taiwan and the Philippines, as well as China, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, are embroiled in diplomatic rows over territory in the South China Sea—which the Philippines refers to as the West Philippine Sea—potentially rich in oil and gas and crisscrossed by crucial shipping lanes.
The disputes have sometimes escalated to a confrontation between vessels.
Assumed to be poaching
Isorena told a press briefing yesterday that the MCS 3001 fired at the Taiwanese fishing vessel some 80 km off the Balintang Channel at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday.
He said two foreign fishing vessels—one big and one small—had been spotted inside Philippine territory.
“The assumption is that they were poaching in our area,” Isorena said.
“The incident happened within Philippine archipelagic waters,” Perez added.
According to Perez, MCS 3001 personnel tried to board the small fishing boat but the latter began evasive maneuvers and even attempted to ram into the Philippine vessel, prompting the PCG personnel on board to fire warning shots.
“It’s normal procedure for the PCG to fire warning shots if they’re running after ships. You fire warning shots for them to stop,” Perez said.
“Eventually, PCG personnel fired on the machinery portion of the fishing boat to disable it,” he said.
The smaller of the two Taiwanese vessels tried to ram into the MCS 3001 but it apparently missed hitting by only 1 meter.
Asked how many shots were fired by the PCG, Isorena said that had yet to be determined.
“Part of the investigation is to determine how many rounds of ammunition they consumed during the shooting,” he said, adding that the MCS 3001 carries a 30-cal. machine gun, an M14 and an M16.
“We still don’t know if they fired all the firearms they had on board,” he said.
While the evasive maneuvers were occurring, the MCS 3001 detected the presence of some unidentified gray and white ships which forced the BFAR vessel to withdraw and return to port.
“They were outnumbered so they decided to withdraw,” Isorena said.
“The MCS 3001 was not able to verify what happened to the [Taiwanese] fishing vessel but we now have information that one of the fishermen died,” he said.
The ship personnel actually were not aware that somebody had been hit, Isorena said. It was only after the PCG received a text message concerning the incident from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Taiwan’s de facto embassy here, that they found out, he said.
He explained that the PCG has a cooperative relationship with Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) and is in touch with them.
The Philippines has no diplomatic ties with Taiwan but maintains economic and cultural links.
In Taipei, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou expressed great concern over the shooting incident and instructed the foreign ministry to demand an investigation from the Philippine government and punish those responsible, the China Post reported yesterday.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lin condemned the fatal shooting of the Taiwanese fisherman, demanded a full investigation and an apology from the Philippine government.
Even before Lin spoke, China—already involved in a simmering territorial dispute with the Philippines—had already deplored the incident in a clear attempt to make common cause with Taiwan on a matter of nationalistic pride involving disputed maritime territory.
A spokesperson from the Chinese foreign ministry called the fatal shooting a “brutal incident” and echoed Taipei’s demand for an investigation.
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the end of the 1949 civil war, although Beijing claims the island.
The BFAR and PCG did not apologize for the incident but they expressed sympathy for the family of the Taiwanese fisherman.
“We sympathize with the family of the fisherman who died, and we assure them of a transparent and impartial investigation,” Isorena and Perez said in a joint statement.
According to Perez, while this was the first such incident to happen this year, “we have historical data indicating that this (intrusion) is like an annual thing”.
“But intrusions occur not only during calmer waters but also during rough seas since their boats are designed for rough seas. It’s just that we were unable to detect them because our vessels are not intended for those kinds of weather,” he said.
“This incident is very unfortunate and efforts will be instituted to prevent similar occurrences,” Isorena said, adding that the government will increase visibility in the area to prevent future incursions on Philippine waters.
Malacañang said the Taiwanese fishermen were at fault in the shooting incident.
“It was an aggressive act. The ramming of the [Taiwanese] boat into our vessel was certainly an aggressive act, so the PCG responded accordingly. The [PCG] fired a warning shot, but they (fishermen) did not [heed it],” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.
When the smaller of the two vessels tried to ram into the Filipino boat, “they (PCG personnel) took the other necessary action and, I understand, eventually disengaged after that,” said Valte.
Asked if an apology from the Philippine government was forthcoming, she said this would depend on the results of the investigation.
The Armed Forces yesterday denied that the Philippine Navy was involved in the death of the Taiwanese fisherman, saying none of its ships were in the area at the time of the incident.
“There were reports this morning that an alleged military ship of the AFP was involved in an incident in the waters of Batanes. I would like to clarify, that is not a Philippine Navy vessel. This was part of the efforts undertaken by the Bureau of Fisheries and the Philippine Coast Guard,” said military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan.
Tutaan said they wanted to make that clarification as they did not want any “international repercussions.”
In a separate statement, Col. Edgard Arevalo, Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea issue, said Navy vessels under the Naval Forces Northern Luzon, which has operational responsibility for the site of the incident, were in the port of Subic or Sual, Pangasinan, when the shooting happened. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Nikko Dizon, AFP, AP and the China Post/ANN
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