The crew members of the Vietnamese vessel that rescued 22 Filipino fishermen whose watercraft was rammed and left to sink by a Chinese fishing boat near Reed Bank (Recto Bank) have gone public and told Vietnamese news website VnExpress that they rescued their Filipino counterparts because any seafarer would have done the same thing.
The Vietnamese also gave an account of what happened, which matched the Filipinos’ retelling of the incident. In an interview published yesterday, the owner and captain of the Vietnamese fishing boat recounted how their crew rescued the Filipinos, whom they kept warm and fed rice and noodles after finding them at sea fighting to stay afloat.
Ngo Van Theng is the owner of the fishing boat TGTG-90983-TS, which was captained by Nguyen Thanh Tam. The two said their crew woke up at 1am on June 10, after hearing the voices of men speaking in a foreign language. When the boat’s crew checked where the voices were coming from, they saw two unidentified men aboard two separate boats waving their hands, as if asking the Vietnamese crew for help.
The men were JP Gordiones and Justine Pascual, members of the Filipino crew who were sent out by captain Junel Insigne to ask for help after their boat sank, according to the Filipinos’ separate account that was published on ABS-CBN News.
According to the Vietnamese, Gordiones and Pascual pointed to Reed Bank and communicated through gestures that there were people there who needed their help. Tam and his crew decided to help and navigated their vessel towards the area, which took them an hour to reach because of the surrounding darkness. They discovered the Filipinos wearing lifejackets while clinging on to plastic barrels and shattered pieces of wood, tired and shivering from the cold.
The Vietnamese fishermen rescued the Filipinos, who told them through gestures what the Chinese vessel did to their fishing boat. They also allowed the Filipino men to borrow their radio to call for help. The 22 Filipinos were picked up by another Philippine boat at 2pm on the same day.
Theng, the Vietnamese boat owner, said his vessel had never rescued anyone before the June 10 incident.
“After working as a fisherman for many years, this is the first time that my family’s ship has rescued another vessel, especially a foreign ship. I believe that anyone who heads out to sea would have done the same thing, not just us,” Theng said.
Based on his own account, Insigne said that he knew that their rescuers were Vietnamese because they identified as such. “One of them said, ‘Vietnam? Philippines? Friends.’ That’s why I knew they were from Vietnam,” Insigne said.
The Vietnamese’s reaction to the incident was different from that of the Chinese who hit the Philippine fishing boat.
Insigne alleged that the Chinese turned their lights on after their ship was rammed, saw the Filipinos in the water screaming for help, then sped away without doing anything.
China’s account of what transpired that night differed from the Filipinos’ and Vietnamese’s version. According to a statement from the Chinese government, the Chinese vessel was fishing on Reed Bank when it was “suddenly besieged” by seven to eight Filipino fishing boats. When it was about to leave, one of its steel cables hit the Filipino vessel, which tilted forward.
The Chinese crew allegedly tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen but did not do so because they were afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats.
Insigne, in an interview with radio station DZBB, denied that the Chinese ship was besieged by other Filipino fishing boats. He said his boat was alone in the area when it was rammed and sunk.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana today called the incident an accident after President Rodrigo Duterte downplayed the hit-and-run.
“I think it’s just an accident based on the information we got from the crew. Perhaps it was not deliberate that they were hit,” Lorenzana was quoted by GMA News saying in a mix of English and Filipino.
Lorenzana was the one who brought the public’s attention to the issue during last week’s Independence Day holiday.
This is contrary to the initial statement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which first said that they do not think that it was an accident.
On the other hand, Duterte thought the whole incident was no big deal. He said at a public speech on Monday at Cavite City that the event was “just a collision of ships,” and not something to wage war over.