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MANILA – (UPDATE, 3:30 p.m.) Malacanang on Tuesday confirmed that a Hong Kong-registered vessel rammed a Philippine fishing boat that left one fisherman dead, three injured, and four others missing last week.
But presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said it was not the M/V Peach Mountain as has been earlier reported.
"I have talked to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and based on the investigation, the vessel had the markings of Hong Kong. The Philippine Navy is conducting an assessment of the route and speed of the vessel. But this is not M/V Peach Mountain. This is another Hong Kong vessel that rammed our fishermen," Lacierda said.
Lacierda said government legal experts have been tasked to look into the next step that the Philippines can take to seek justice for the fishermen.
"They were plying the internal waters of the Philippines," he said.
Lacierda said the government expects the operator of the Hong Kong-registered vessel to cooperate with the Philippine authorities.
Navy on ‘Chinese’ ship in collision
Philippine Navy flag officer in command Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said it was possible that the Hong Kong-registered M/V Peach Mountain was not the one that rammed the Philippine fishing boat off Bolinao, Pangasinan last week.
Pama said the Navy's coast watch station in Zambales last monitored the M/V Peach Mountain at 9 a.m. on June 20. The cargo vessel was moving north at a speed of 10.1 knots.
The site of the incident took place 178 nautical miles northwest of Bolinao.
Based on the computation of the speed of the ship, it was possible that it was not in the area at the time of the incident.
It’s possible that the ship either moved faster or maintained its speed. “By computing the speed of the ship somewhere in Zambales, if it moved at 10.1 knots it will take her about 13 hours to be in the location where it happened," Pama told reporters.
According to a report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the Philippine boat was allegedly hit by the foreign vessel 1 p.m. on June 20.
Pama, however, stressed that this was "not conclusive" as several factors could have affected the speed of the vessel because of the prevailing southwest monsoon in the area.
"We're still checking other sources of data. This is not conclusive. This is a result of data based on radars and we're in touch with other international maritime groups," he said.
He said it was possible that another ship could have hit the fishing boat "Axl John." The coast watch station was able to monitor 90 ships that passed through the Zambales station on the day of June 20.
The place of the incident was a "transit area" of ships, including foreign ones, and as a result the Philippine Navy said the ship could have come from another country.
"We're not discounting other ships from the north. The fishermen said the ship came from the north. This is not conclusive. They have been at sea for three days and might be disoriented and said north because their reference was the southwest monsoon (hanging habagat)," Pama said.
The Navy also clarified that just because it bore the markings of "Hong Kong" on the ship did not mean it came from Hong Kong. Pama said the markings only indicated that the ship was registered in Hong Kong but could have been used by another country.
"Even if the ship has markings that is where they are registered, that is only the flag registry. It doesn’t mean that a Manila marking would mean it’s Philippine-owned. It's a flag of convenience. Granting that they saw Hong Kong at the back, it means it is registered in Hong Kong but does not mean it's owned by the Chinese government," he said.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said there has been misinformation and exaggeration on the alleged collision. He said that based on interviews with survivors in Bolinao, it appeared that the fishing boat was not tied to the "payaw" as they earlier claimed.
It also appeared that because of the bad weather, their fishing boat was almost submerged and the foreign ship "passed through them but did not ram them."
"However it also did not rescue them. They only noticed the Chinese characters 'Hong Kong,'" Gazmin said.
"We're saying this to clarify (matters). There has been confusion. May na-misquote, exaggerated, may kulang ang report (There’s misquotation, exaggeration, lack in the report). These are from sources themselves, our data, and testimony of witnesses," he said.
Government help for fishermen
Lacierda said the injured fishermen: Herman Balmores, 51, Edemio Balmores Jr., 40, and Marcelino Damian, 32 were given P5,000 each as well as family food packs.
The wife of Christopher Carbonel, who died of hypothermia after the collision, was given P10,000 in burial assistance and family food pack.
Lacierda said authorities are still searching for the missing fishermen, namely Dommy delos Santos, Amante Resonable, Arnold Garcia, and Fred Selino.
Their families were given P5,000 and family food packs each.
Pyscho-social support and stress debriefings would also be extended to the victims.