MANILA - The Philippines backed away yesterday from allegations a Hong Kong vessel may have rammed a Filipino fishing boat in stormy waters of the South China Sea, leaving one man dead and four missing.
The authorities have not identified the mystery vessel behind the June 20 incident west of Luzon island, Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said.
The Philippine Coast Guard on Monday named Hong Kong-flagged Peach Mountain a suspect, but Pama said the authorities had since reviewed its track and concluded the vessel was nowhere near the supposed collision site.
"If we are just going to compute on the basis of the speed of the ship at 9 in the morning, she cannot be in that particular (area) which is 130 nautical miles (222 kilometres) away," Pama said of the bulk carrier.
Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin also said the coast guard's initial description of the incident as an accidental collision was incorrect.
Four of the eight crew members were rescued three days after the incident, but one later died. Four other crew members remain missing.
Gazmin said the surviving crew noticed the markings "Hong Kong" as well as Chinese characters at the mystery ship's stern, which he said was how the Peach Mountain had come under suspicion.
About 90 cargo vessels had passed the busy sea lane in the general area of the accident over a 24-hour period, and the Philippine authorities are trying to narrow the vessels most probably involved down to about 20.
The incident has threatened to complicate the dispute between China and the Philippines over the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, which both countries claim.*AFP
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