Hong Kong vessel did not abandon Filipino fishermen, but several lapses found – PCG

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 30) — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Tuesday said initial investigation revealed that the collision of a Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier and a Filipino fishing boat was not deliberate, but the foreign crew were found to have committed negligence that may lead to civil and criminal liability.

PCG Commandant Vice Admiral George Ursabia, Jr. said the Hong Kong-flagged M/V Vienna Wood collided with local fishing boat F/V Liberty 5 several times in the vicinity of Occidental Mindoro. The incident occurred at around 10:20 pm of June 27, but Ursabia said they received the distress call from Vienna Wood via email three hours later.

He said the time frame would have been crucial in the rescue of the 14 Filipinos on board — 12 crew members and two passengers — who remain missing as of Tuesday afternoon.

"Habang maaga pa, it wasn't taking so much water yet, hindi pa siya submerged. Pwede pa sana mapasok at makuha ang na-trap na missing crew na hinahanap natin ngayon," Ursabia said in a Zoom media briefing.

[Translation: There was still time, the boat wasn't submerged in water yet. It was still possible to enter and rescue the missing crew that we are now looking for.]

The PCG said there have been no signs of the missing Filipinos, but the search and rescue operations will continue until Wednesday at the very least as the Coast Guard remains hopeful survivors will turn up soon.

The top Coast Guard official said the Vienna Wood mariners did not abandon the Filipinos after the collision, but said they failed to offer immediate rescue or assistance — which is required under maritime law.

"Hindi nila iniwanan ang area," he pointed out. "But they were not able to launch their own team to conduct immediate assistance or search and rescue operations to the ill-fated fishing vessel."

[Translation: They did not leave the area, but they also did not deploy their crew to conduct immediate assistance or rescue operations for the crew of the ill-fated fishing vessel.]

Ursabia explained that the bulk carrier moved away from the incident area after seeing seven small fishing vessels helping the capsized Filipino boat. He said this was done so the 31,540 gross ton bulk carrier can avoid hitting the smaller boats.

He added that the PCG is looking into the criminal and civil liabilities of the 20 foreign crew for their failure to extend immediate help to the Filipino fishermen even if their vessel had all the means to do so as it carried several life vests and small rescue boats.

"They have done their part," the official said. "I would say 50 percent of what they're expected to do."

Both vessels were allowed to traverse the area, Ursabia said.

The PCG Commandant added the two vessels signaled that they were both moving towards the same direction, but the Hong Kong vessel got confused because it seemed like the Liberty 5 was moving in different directions.

He said that according to the Vienna Wood crew master, he tried to move towards the right side to avoid hitting the small boat.

Vienna Wood sustained a hole in its "stem," which is deemed to be the strongest part of the bulk carrier, after hitting the side of Liberty 5. Ursabia said the damage to the huge carrier proves the impact of the collision on the Filipinos' boat.

Ursabia added there was poor visibility during the incident brought about by the bad weather.

Due to the damage to Vienna Wood, it is currently docked in Batangas. All 20 foreign crew members are in the area, but PCG clarified they were neither arrested nor detained.

The Coast Guard is set to finish its investigation by July 2. It said it will pursue cases against the foreign crew if they are proven to have been remiss in their duties that led to the incident.