This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The Philippines said Wednesday it was investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of three Filipino fishermen after a foreign ship struck and sank their boat in the country’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
The accident involving the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker and the fishing boat happened on Monday, some 85 nautical miles (157 km) northwest of Bajo de Masinloc – which is internationally known as Scarborough Shoal – the Philippine Coast Guard said in an incident report.
“On October 2, 2023, at approximately 0420H, the Filipino Fishing Boat (FFB) DEARYN was involved in an accident where it was rammed by an unidentified vessel,” the report said.
The Philippine boat was moored over a payao – a man-made structure anchored offshore to attract fish – when the tanker identified as the Pacific Anna collided with it, it said.
“Due to the adverse weather conditions causing darkness, the crew on board the mother boat failed to detect an unidentified vessel approaching, resulting in a collision that caused the mother ship to capsize,” the coast guard said in a statement Wednesday.
“Three casualties, including the boat captain, were reported from the incident.”
Eight crew members survived and used smaller, service vessels to transport the dead to Infanta, a coastal town in Pangasinan province, according to the coast guard.
The coast guard said the Pacific Anna would be boarded by authorities at its next port call.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the incident was under investigation and urged people to refrain from speculation.
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of the three fishermen, including the captain of the fishing vessel,” Marcos said in a statement.
“We assure the victims, their families and everyone that we will exert every effort to hold accountable those who are responsible for this unfortunate maritime incident.”
The South China Sea is one of the most important maritime trade routes in the world, through which trillions of dollars of goods pass through annually.
It is also the site of overlapping territorial claims between China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The sinking comes amid heightened tensions between the Philippines and China in the region. On Sept. 22, Manila accused the China Coast Guard of deploying a 328-yard-long “floating barrier” to obstruct the entrance to the disputed Scarborough Shoal. The next day, the Philippine Coast Guard removed the barrier in a “special operation.”
Both Manila and Beijing claim the Scarborough Shoal, though it is under China’s control.
A United Nations tribunal in 2016 dismissed China’s sweeping claims over most of the South China Sea, including the shoal, but Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.
In 2019, a larger Chinese fishing vessel struck a Filipino fishing boat near the Recto Bank in the South China Sea, leaving 22 Filipino fishermen to fend for themselves in rough seas before they were rescued by a passing Vietnamese ship.
Manila said the waters in which the incident took place were in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Fernando Hicap, the chairman of small fisherfolk organization Pamalakaya, demanded a swift investigation into the sinking of the Philippine fishing vessel.
“It is unfortunate that Filipino fishermen have to be vulnerable and unprotected in our own traditional waters,” he said in a statement, adding accountability and government help for the bereaved families must follow.