Published On: Fri, Jun 14th, 2019

Boat sunk by Chinese ship in West PH Sea now back home

The boat and its crew have been the focal point of the latest tension between the Philippines and China

Published 7:02 AM, June 15, 2019

Updated 7:10 AM, June 15, 2019

DOCKED HOME. Fishing boat Gem-vir off the coast of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

DOCKED HOME. Fishing boat Gem-vir off the coast of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The sunken and abandoned fishing boat Gem-vir is finally docked at its home port in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.

The boat, which has been the focal point of the latest tension between the Philippines and China, was brought back at around 3 am on Saturday, June 15, towed by its sister boat Gem-vir 2.

It first sailed out on May 29, with its crew planning to fish for at least 15 days. After a traumatic experience with a Chinese fishing vessel that almost saw its crew’s death, Gem-vir docked back at the shore of Barangay San Roque.

What happened to it? Gem-vir and its crew were sunk on June 9 by a Chinese fishing ship near Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea. The Chinese vessel then approached them, flashed its “super lights” then sped away, abandoning the 22-man Filipino crew.

They were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel before being turned over to the Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz, where they stayed until Friday, June 14. All the men arrived on Friday, after the crew’s machine man stayed with Gem-vir and its sister vessel. A day after, they followed.

The couple Felix and Fe dela Torre have owned fishing boat Gem-vir since 2016; other families rely on the boat for their livelihood.

Why does it matter? The wreckage of fishing boat Gem-vir will prove to be critical in what has evolved into a battle on the narrative of the sinking incident.

While Philippine officials have insisted on a probe before accusing any Chinese of wrongdoing over the incident, China has been quick to claim that its fishing vessel did not attack, but had instead tried to save the sinking fishermen. In a statement Friday evening, June 14, the Chinese embassy claimed the Chinese vessel was “besieged by 7 or 8 Filipino fishing boats,” preventing it from rescuing the Filipino fishermen.

China’s claims denied: The captain of Gem-vir has belied China’s claims, saying that it was only them and the Chinese boat in that particular area of Recto Bank at midnight of June 9.

Kami-kami lang ang nandoon. Kami-kami lang. Wala namang ibang bangka doon. Kami lang doon. Kami lang dahil noong gabing ‘yun [lumubog] nga kami, kami pa ang aatake?” Junel Insigne told Rappler in an interview at the Philippine Coast Guard Headquarters in San Jose on Friday evening.

(We were the only ones there. We were the only ones. There were no other boats there. It was only us. It was only us because that night, we sank, so how could we also attack?) – Rappler.com

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