UNITED States Ambassador Sung Kim said Tuesday, June 18, that while the Recto Bank incident appears to be an accident, "it is also a very serious situation" and someone must be held accountable.
"I know that the Philippine officials have called (on) the Chinese officials to fully investigate. I think it is very important to find out how it exactly happened," Kim said during a roundtable discussion with media in Davao City Tuesday.
He said someone must take "full accountability" for what had happened.
"We need to take measures to prevent accidents like that from happening again," Kim said.
He said the incident, which President Rodrigo Duterte has downplayed, serves as a reminder of the need to establish a "meaningful" Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
"I think this is a reminder of the importance of coming up with a meaningful code of conduct. The US continues to support that," Kim said.
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China are still negotiating for the drafting of a legally binding Code of Conduct in the disputed sea. Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam is also claiming part of the maritime territory.
Kim also cited the need to establish "responsible maritime behavior consistent with international law".
"I think there is a law established on the duty to save lives at sea. I am grateful that no lives were lost and there was a Vietnamese vessel nearby," Kim said.
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas Convention) is an international treaty that "obligates the masters to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, regardless of nationality or status of that person."
On June 9, 2019, Filipino fishing boat F/B Gemver sank after it was hit by a Chinese vessel while it was anchored near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, which is part of the South China Sea that is being claimed by both the Philippines and China.
After the collision, the Chinese fled leaving 22 Filipino fishermen in distress at sea. The Filipinos were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat about an hour later.
Kim said that when you know your fellow fishermen are in trouble, you have to find possible ways to help save them.
The Chinese, in a press statement on June 14, said they had accidentally struck the Filipino boat while trying to "evacuate" after allegedly being besieged by 7 to 8 Filipino boats.
The Chinese also said they did not rescue the Filipino fishermen because they were afraid of being besieged by the Filipinos.
Manila, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has filed a diplomatic protest with Beijing over the incident.
Amid calls for the Duterte government to hold the Chinese crew involved in the incident accountable, the President on Monday, June 17, soft-pedalled the issue and warned against creating tension at the disputed sea.
He said he would rather wait for the findings of the separate investigations being conducted by Manila and Beijing.
Kim said, "We believe strongly we all should work to protect international rights like freedom of navigation."
Kim said the US Navy continues to conduct operations under the "freedom of navigation" in the West Philippine Sea.
"It is an important reminder to all those concerned that the US will continue to take action to protect international rights," Kim said. (SunStar Davao)