Three Filipino fishermen died after their fishing boat was struck by a still unidentified foreign commercial vessel in the South China Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard reported, and the country’s president has promised a full investigation.
The incident occurred on Monday while the boat was transiting waters 85 nautical miles (157 km) northwest of the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the coast guard said in a statement on Wednesday.
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A number of crew members survived after the boat sank, the coast guard said.
“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,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said in a social media post on Wednesday following the coast guard’s announcement.
“The incident is still under investigation to ascertain the details and circumstances surrounding the collision between the fishing boat and a still unidentified commercial vessel,” Marcos Jr said.
“Currently, the Philippine Coast Guard is backtracking and checking all monitored vessels in the area as part of its ongoing investigation,” he said.
The Philippine Coast Guard said later that an initial assessment based on the surviving fishermen’s account and sea traffic at the time of the accident indicated that a crude oil tanker under the flag of the Marshall Islands may have been involved. The coast guard said it would try to locate the tanker and its crew as part of the investigation.
Tensions in the disputed South China Sea have recently flared after the Philippines said it removed a 300-metre-long barrier installed by China’s Coast Guard near the Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing spot for Philippine boats and one of Asia’s most contested maritime features.
The strategic shoal, named after a British cargo vessel that ran aground on the atoll in the 18th century, was seized in 2012 by China, which has maintained a constant presence of coast guard and fishing trawlers there ever since.
The United States and the Philippines began annual joint naval war games on Monday involving more than a thousand sailors from the two allies. The annual “Samasama” (Tagalog for “Together”) exercises involve anti-submarine, surface and electronic warfare drills off Manila and the south of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines.
US Seventh Fleet chief Vice Admiral Karl Thomas told sailors at an opening ceremony in Manila that the rights of all nations to ensure national sovereignty were “under attack every day on the high seas”.
“There’s no better way to ensure sovereignty and security than to sail and to operate together,” Thomas said.
Asked at a news conference to whom he was referring, Thomas said it was important to maintain the right to sail through the area “free from worries about being attacked” or “intimidated”.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies