THE OWNER of the Chinese ship that sank a Filipino fishing boat at Reed Bank in the South China Sea has apologized, two months after the mishap, according to a letter addressed to the Philippine Foreign Affairs department.
“I feel deep regret that this accident had to happen and I would like to express my deep sympathy to the Filipino fishermen,” according to the letter coursed through a certain Chinese group. “The shipowner of the Chinese fishing boat involved, through our association, would like to express his sincere apology to the Filipino fishermen.”
Yesterday’s apology comes more than two months after a Filipino fishing boat was sunk and abandoned by the Chinese trawler in Recto Bank, part of the islets claimed by both the Philippines and China.
It also comes on the day President Rodrigo R. Duterte is set to leave for an official visit to China. Mr. Duterte will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit.
The Chinese fishing boat, registered in Guangdong, takes responsibility for the accident even if it was unintentional, according to the group’s letter.
The group said the Philippines should file a claim for damages related to the incident. “The Philippine side is requested to file a specific appeal for civil compensation based on actual loss,” according to the letter.
The group also assured the Philippines that the Chinese ship owner would try to hasten the claims.
The Chinese Embassy on June 14 denied that a Chinese ship had sunk a Filipino boat in a “hit-and-run” incident. It said the Chinese ship was “besieged by seven or eight Filipino fishing boats,” preventing it from rescuing the Filipino fishermen.
It later sent its sympathies to the 22 distressed fishermen who were abandoned at sea for hours and were later saved by a Vietnamese fishing vessel.
In the signed letter, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. said he had “noted” the Chinese ship owner’s apology.
The Chinese vessel had failed to take measures to avoid the collision and eventually abandoned the Filipino boat’s crew, in violation of maritime laws, the Philippine Coast Guard and Maritime Industry Authority said in a report in June.
Mr. Duterte had described the incident as a “little maritime accident,” and said the Philippines was not ready to go to war with China.
Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, on the other hand, denounced the actions of the Chinese fishing vessel for leaving the scene of the incident. The military chief had said the Filipino fishing boat was anchored when it was hit by the Chinese fishing vessel.
“The apology coming from the Chinese side, while two months late, shows the validity of the Philippine version of the incident,” Senator Francis N. Tolentino, vice-chairman of the foreign relations committee, said yesterday.
“We should pursue a civil claim for damages to give justice to our fishermen as well as seek other routes to protect them in the future hand-in-hand with our sovereign rights,” he said.
Mr. Duterte earlier said he planned to invoke a 2016 ruling by an international arbitration panel in the Hague that rebuffed Chinese claims over parts of the South China Sea when he visits Beijing later this month.
The United Nations tribunal in July 2016 ruled China’s efforts to assert control over the South China Sea exceeded the law, rejecting its shared claims with Taiwan to more than 80% of the main waterway.
China rejected the decision of the international court, which has failed to halt its island-building activities in areas also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. — Charmaine A. Tadalan