Inter-agency body probes Ph Navy, Viet fishermen

CAPE BOLINAO INCIDENT

LINGAYEN–A newly formed inter-agency committee has began investigating the incident that happened 34 nautical miles off Cape Bolinao involving the Philippine Navy patrol ship BRP Miguel Malvar and a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the early morning of September 23 and the death of two Vietnamese fishermen riddled with gunshot wounds in different parts of their bodies.

The Provincial Committee on Illegal Entrants (PCEI) chaired by P/Sr. Superintendent Ronald Lee, Pangasinan police director, is composed of Philippine Coast Guard (as lead agency), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA).

The PCEI investigation, Lee said, will focus on three issues: the death of the two Vietnamese fishermen, illegal fishing and poaching within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

To focus on the investigation of the deaths of the fishing crew, PCIE created a sub-group, also called Special Investigation Task Group, composed of the PNP, Coast Guard, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) that already processed the Vietnamese fishing boat.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Regional Office 1 is conducting a separate investigation for possible filing of administrative case for illegal fishing against the arrested fishermen.

BFAR Region 1 Director Nestor Domenden said they have the jurisdiction over the fishing vessel. The purpose of the separate investigation is for filing an administrative case of poaching against the arrested Vietnamese fishermen.

The initial report of the Philippine Navy noted that at about 11:30 p.m.  of September 22, BRP Miguel Malvar PS 19, with 49 crewmen on board, was sailing at 34 nautical miles of Cape Bolinao, Pangasinan when it sighted six sets of super light, a banned gadget in fishing, at about 34 nautical miles northwest of Bolinao prompting the ship to proceed to the location for verification.

It found out six Vietnamese fishing vessels engaged in illegal fishing at the site with the use of the super light. One of the fishing vessels nearest the Navy ship immediately turned off the lights and sped off prompting the ship to give chase.

Despite numerous and repeated calls through marine band radio and megaphone telling the fishing vessel to stop, the latter disregarded the calls and made dangerous maneuvers.

The Vietnamese vessel then veered to its starboard and hit the portside of the ship but the vessel continued to flee. After a few minutes of chase, the Vietnamese vessel suddenly stopped.

When the ship personnel boarded the foreign vessel, they saw two dead bodies lying on its deck, who according to the Vietnamese crew, the bodies were taken from the stockroom situated at the bow side of the vessel.

The dead Vietnamese fishermen were identified as Le Van Liem, 41; Le Van Reo, 41, both of Phu Yen province in Vietnam.

Apprehended were Pham To, 34, the boat captain; Phan Lam, 34, Nguyen Thanh Chi, 49; Phan Van Liem, 41; and Nguyen Van Trong, 41, also of Phu Yen Province in Vietnam.

They were earlier placed under the custody of the Bolinao Police but were later ordered to return to their boat moored at Sual Port which has been under guard by both the Coast Guard and the PNP.

All 49 crewmen of BRP Miguel Malvar were recently placed on restrictive custody while their commanding officer, Wilmer Base, the ship captain was temporarily relieved.

Before this, the crew turned over to the PNP nine M-16 rifles and two Caliber 50 machine guns for ballistic examination.

Meanwhile, the bodies of the two dead Vietnamese fishermen remain at a funeral home in Bani town (Leonardo Micau/Nora Dominguez)