The Philippines on Wednesday condemned the “cowardly action” of a suspected Chinese fishing vessel accused of abandoning a Filipino fishing crew after a collision in the East Vietnam Sea, while thanking a Vietnamese ship for coming to the fishermen’s aid.
The Chinese ship on Sunday hit a Filipino craft anchored near Reed Bank causing it to sink and leaving 22 crewmen “to the mercy of the elements,” Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana was quoted by AFP as saying in a statement on Wednesday.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the suspected Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew,” Lorenzana said.
“This is not the expected action from a responsible and friendly people.”
Lorenzana called for an investigation into the collision, and for “diplomatic steps” to be taken toward preventing a repeat of the incident.
However, Philippine defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong told AFP the agency had yet to confirm whether the vessel was Chinese-registered, adding it was the Filipino fishermen who identified it as such.
The defense chief also thanked the crew of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity which he said brought the Filipinos to safety.
Like the Philippines, Vietnam has partial claims over the East Vietnam Sea, where Beijing has illegally built artificial islands with military facilities and airstrips.
Reed Bank is about 150 kilometers off the Philippine island of Palawan.
Although Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has largely set aside the bitter dispute with Beijing over the resource-rich waterway, Manila does sometimes protest against Chinese action in the East Vietnam Sea.
Competing claims over the East Vietnam Sea is a point of regional contention because trillions of dollars of goods passes through it, and rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath its waters.
In recent months, the presence of more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels near Thitu Island, part of Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago but illegally occupied by the Philippines, is stirring disquiet in the region.
Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said in March that Vietnam has sufficient legal bases and historical evidence to affirm its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa archipelagoes in accordance with international law.
“Relevant parties need to behave responsibly and make practical and positive contributions toward peace and stability in the region,” Hang said regarding China’s actions.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July 2016 that there was no legal basis for China’s to claim historic rights to resources within much of the East Vietnam Sea, marking a clear win for Vietnam in maritime territorial disputes with neighboring China.
China, which boycotted the hearings at the court, vowed to ignore the ruling and said its armed forces would defend its sovereignty and maritime interests.