Initial Probe Points to Lapses by Hong Kong Ship in Collision

A Hong Kong-flagged ship that collided with a Filipino boat, leaving 14 people missing at sea off Mindoro Island, did not deploy rescue boats and delayed its distress call about the incident to Philippine authorities, the coast guard said Tuesday.

Rescuers carried on throughout the day with searching for survivors from the FV Liberty 5, the Philippine fishing boat that capsized after the collision in waters near the South China Sea, but found none of the boat’s 12 crew members or two passengers, officials said.

The incident in fact occurred on Saturday although the crew from the MV Vienna Wood, a Hong Kong-registered cargo ship, waited till the pre-dawn hours on Sunday to alert Philippine authorities about the incident that occurred about 15 nautical miles (27 km) off Tayamaan, a town in Occidental Mindoro province, which lies south of Luzon Island, said Vice Admiral George Ursabia, chief of the Philippine Coast Guard.

“According to them, they just stopped and remained in the area without deploying any small boats for search and rescue for immediate assistance to the fishing vessel,” Ursabia said.

The ship moved a distance from the capsized Philippine boat because, the crew of the Vienna Wood reported, other fishing boats had already arrived and were helping in the rescue effort, Ursabia said.

However, it was possible that the captain and crew of the Vienna Wood may face “criminal and civil liabilities” for not helping the crew of the FV Liberty 5, he said.

The crew of the cargo ship waited about three hours before informing Philippine authorities about the collision, precious time that could have been used to scramble rescue personnel to the scene, Ursabia told reporters.

“That was very crucial,” Ursabia said, disclosing that the mishap occurred at 10:20 p.m, Saturday, but the coast guard only received an email about the accident at 1:45 a.m. Sunday.

He said they would also investigate why the ship sent an electronic mail to relay information about the accident rather than alert the coast guard by radio or telephone.

Based on the damage sustained by both vessels, “it appears that the Vienna Wood hit” the smaller vessel, he said.

“It appears the fishing vessel was crossing the path of the bulk carrier from the right side,” Ursabia said.

The collision came more than a year after the Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest about the ramming and sinking of a Filipino boat by a Chinese boat in disputed waters of the South China Sea. In that incident, 22 Filipino crew members were left floating at sea until they were picked up by a Vietnamese boat.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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