Sotto claims Chinese vessel did not sink Philippine fishing boat

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday, June 24, claimed that a Chinese ship did not sink Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver in Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

In a message to reporters, Sotto shared the opinion of a "Coast Guard expert" on the June 9 incident between the Chinese and Philippine vessels in Recto Bank.

Sotto, quoting the expert, said: "There is no way we can verify whether the mast light was lighted or not. This is a small fishing boat and normally they don't display it especially in areas where there is no maritime traffic."

"The [fishing boat] was hit slightly on the astern (rear part) and intentional ramming would be through the side. Also, it was the boom of the Chinese boat that hit the mast of the Filipino [fishing boat] which could mean that the Chinese only saw the [fishing boat] when it was near and tried to do a hard left or hard right with its engines on full astern thus the damage is minimal," Sotto quoted the expert as saying.

The Senate President also said it was "critical" to determine if the masthead light of the Philippine boat was on or not. If it were on, then the ramming was not an accident. If not, then it was accidental, he said.

"I concluded sinking sa query para madiin (sinking in the query to emphasize it), but apparently there was no sinking," Sotto told reporters.

Despite this, Sotto said the crew of the Chinese vessel must still answer why they left the Filipino fishermen struggling at sea.

"That is the issue that should be addressed by those heartless fishermen in the [Chinese] vessel," he said.

Sotto earlier called for an investigation into the incident and backed a joint probe with China. Other senators, however, opposed the joint probe.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier echoed the Chinese foreign ministry, which downplayed the boat sinking as "an ordinary maritime traffic incident."

Recto Bank is in Philippine waters, where only Filipinos can fish. – Rappler.com

Related stories, in-depth reports, analyses, videos, podcasts: The sinking of a Philippine boat in West Philippine Sea

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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