HK vessel may be culprit in mishap: Coast Guard

Posted at 06/25/12 3:45 PM

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) suspects it was the MV Peach Mountain, a Hong Kong-registered bulk vessel, which accidentally hit a local fishing boat last week that left a Filipino fisherman dead and four of his colleagues still missing.

Coast Guard spokesman Arman Balilo told ABS-CBNnews.com Monday night that the investigation is not yet final. He said they have yet to get information from Hong Kong, Japan, and also Singapore.

He said they are still trying to determine all the vessels that passed by the area off Bolinao in Pangasinan where the incident happened last June 20.

“As of this posting, the PCG is coordinating with Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Coordinating Center and the RECAAP PSC main headquarters in Japan. It also issued Notice to Mariners for all commercial vessels transiting the area to be vigilant for the missing fishermen and immediately report and assist once sighted,” the PCG said.

In a statement Monday morning, the PCG had said MV Peach Mountain was en route to China with 29 Chinese crew onboard when the collision happened.

The local fishing boat, Axl John, went to sea on June 18. The next day, huge waves battered the vessel and caused it to submerge.

Operators managed to secure the vessel to a “payaw,” or fish sanctuary. The next day, the bulk vessel then accidentally hit the smaller vessel, leaving the latter adrift at sea.

Balilo added that three of the survivors of the collision in the South China Sea had said that the vessel that struck them had the words "Hong Kong" painted on it.

He described the incident as a "hit-and-run", saying that the ship hit the fishing vessel and then left without trying to help the Filipinos.

Some of the fishermen were brought to a hospital in Vigan, but one died while under observation.

Two fishermen have already been discharged and are now with their families.

Accidental clash?

In an interview with ANC Monday afternoon, Balilo said: “We are not discounting the possibility that the vessel did not see the fishing boat.”

Balilo said the fishermen themselves claimed there was poor visibility at the time.

He said a big ship such as the MV Peach Mountain, which he described as three times as big as a Superferry, is equipped with a radar to detect objects within its perimeter.

However, since the fishing boat was made of wood, it is possible that the vessel failed to detect the boat. Radars cannot detect boats made of wood.

Balilo believes that if the bigger vessel had seen the Axl John, it would have assisted the fishermen.

He also dismissed the possibility that the foreign vessel went beyond municipal waters.

The incident came as China and the Philippines maintain a tense standoff over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

PH gov't to file charges after probe

However, President Benigno Aquino said on Monday his government had not blamed China directly.

"We are gathering all of the necessary evidence. We are not accusing anybody at this point in time," he told reporters.

He said once the information is obtained, the government would file the necessary charges with the proper agency.

The incident had threatened to complicate the dispute over Scarborough Shoal which both countries claim.

Chinese ships have been based near the shoal since April to stress their country's claim.

The Philippines recently withdrew its ships due to bad weather but is considering deploying them again, Aquino said.-- with Agence France-Presse