The Filipino fishing boat that sunk in Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) after a Chinese vessel “accidentally collided” with it has been refloated and is now being towed back to land.
Western Command (WESCOM) spokesperson Lt. Col. Stephen Penetrante told Palawan News on Thursday that F/B Gem-Vir was “successfully refloated” by combined salvaging equipment assets of Felix dela Torre, its owner, and the Naval Forces West (NFW) under the operational control of the Western Command (WESCOM).
He said F/B Gem-Vir is expected to arrive in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro on June 16.
“Si Mr. Felix dela Torre is aboard a salvage ship to supervise the towing of Gem-Vir. Ito kasing Gem-Vir, they were able to refloat it. Napa-refloat nila ngayon, pero di ko mabigay ang exact time. So successful ang refloating operation nila. Nagtulong-tulong ‘yong Navy natin at saka iba pa, tino-tow na ito papuntang San Jose, Occidental Mindoro,” Penetrante said.
Gem-Vir’s 22 fishing crew, he added, are also now on their way to Occidental Mindoro aboard BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16).
He said as soon as BRP Ramon Alcaraz is near land, it will transfer the 22 fishermen to the Navy’s BRP Tausug (LC-295) which will bring them to San Jose town on June 14, expecting to arrive at around 9 a.m.
“‘Yong PS-16, mag-co-contact ito sa isang ship naman natin, ‘yong Landing Craft-295 kasi ito ay maliit-liit ng konti. Then i-tu-turnover sila kapag malapit na sa beach ng Mindoro. Tapos dadalahin na sa pier at itu-turnover naman sila sa competent authorities doon,” Penetrante said.
Except for one who is ill with flu, Penetrante said all the F/B Gem-Vir crewmen are safe and in good health condition.
They were checked by a medical team aboard the navy patrol ship after the incident occurred around midnight on June 9.
“Lahat in stable condition except for one who is suffering from flu. Wala namang seryosong mga sugat o kung ano man. Na-check sila agad ng medical team na nasa PS-16,” he added.
Penetrante also said that the WESCOM has already forwarded its report to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) which had already filed a diplomatic protest over the “accidental ramming incident” in Recto Bank on June 9.
“Andoon na lahat ng reports namin sa DFA tungkol sa pangyayari, I’m no longer allowed to discuss what the contents are,” he said.
Meanwhile, residents of San Jose municipality took to social media on June 13 to express their sadness over the alleged sinking of F/B Gem-Vir by the Chinese.
San Jose Vice Mayor Rod Agas said they feel dejected because of what happened to their residents.
He also expressed deep gratitude to the Vietnamese fishermen who rescued the 22 crewmen after their boat sunk around midnight of June 9.
“Pagkalungkot [ang] nararamdaman namin sa pagpapalubog ng Chinese sa F/B Gem-Vir na pag aari ng Dela Torre family na mula sa San Roque, San Jose. Salamat sa mga Vietnamese fishermen na nagligtas sa kanila. Umaasa kami na maipaglalaban ng ating national government ang ating mga mangingisda na may karapatang manghuli ng isda sa karagatang ‘yan (WPS) at mapanatili ang kanilang proteksyon,” Agas stated.
Agas said that based on the report of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in Occidental Mindoro, F/B Gem-Vir sunk because it was rammed by the Chinese.
“Sila ay nadaanan ng mga Vietnamese fishermen at sinalba, nakigamit ng communication equipment, at nagdatingan din ang mga bangkang taga San Jose na malapit sa area. Nagtulong-tulong at gamit ang ilang materyales na-repair ang ilang bahagi ng bangka para ito ay mahila pabalik. Hila ngayon ng F/B M2M ang Gem-Vir at inaalalayan ng Philippine Navy,” he said.
Penetrante said WESCOM through the Joint Task Force West (JTFW) initially conducted an inquiry “to document evidence” on why the Chinese vessel “did not even bother to stop and rescue” the Filipino crew of the fishing boat.