China wants joint probe with PH on sinking of Filipino boat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 20) — The Chinese government is proposing a joint investigation with Philippine authorities on the sinking of a Filipino boat in the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang in a media briefing on Thursday said the joint probe is key to finding a "proper solution" to the June 9 incident wherein a Filipino boat was hit and sunk by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank. The underwater feature being claimed by both Manila and Bejing is also known as Reed Bank.

"We suggest a joint investigation at an early date so the two sides can exchange respective initial findings and properly handle the matter through friendly consultations based on mutually-recognized investigation results," Lu told reporters, according to the statement released by the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

"We will continue to investigate the incident thoroughly and communicate with the Philippine side via bilateral channels," Lu added.

A joint probe is also being proposed by some Philippine government officials, including Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who is also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel.

Pending investigation results, the top officials of both countries are calling it an accident.

In an earlier statement, China's Embassy in Manila said a Chinese fishing boat was "besieged" by seven to eight Filipino boats as it was berthed near Recto Bank last June 9. The Chinese vessel then "accidentally" hit the Filipino boat Gem-Ver as it was trying to escape, China said. It also added that the Chinese crew was forced to abandon the Filipino fishermen, "afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats." It claimed the Chinese vessel only left when other local boats came to rescue the Filipino fishermen.

Filipino fishermen dismissed these as lies. They told CNN Philippines they were jolted from sleep when the Chinese vessel hit their boat at midnight, and that the foreign vessel quickly sailed away upon seeing them floating in the high seas. They also said there were no other Filipino boats in the area. They were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat.

READ: Fishermen recount boat ramming ordeal amid China's 'lies'

The Philippine Coast Guard — tasked to conduct the investigation into the incident — has finished its probe. But its spokesperson refused to disclose the results, saying it has yet to "harmonize" the findings with that of Maritime Industry Authority. The Department of Justice said it will wait for the results of the maritime inquiry before taking any legal action.

Guevarra said "referral to a neutral third party may be considered" if there are factual differences from the accounts of the two countries.

The Philippine Embassy in London earlier decried the "callous" abandonment of Filipino fishermen before the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a London-based specialized agency of the UN that focuses on the safety, security, and environmental impact of international shipping. Some officials have said the IMO could conduct the probe. Both the Philippines and China are member states of the IMO.