By Karen Lema and Mikhail Flores
MANILA (Reuters) -An oil tanker registered under the flag of the Marshall Islands was suspected to have been involved in an ‘accidental collision’ with a Philippine boat in the South China Sea that killed three fishermen, the Philippine coast guard said on Wednesday.
Philippine coast guard spokesperson Armando Balilo said that the incident was under investigation but that coast guard monitoring pointed to the Pacific Anna, registered under the flag of Marshall Islands, as the likely vessel that collided with the fishing boat.
The coast guard said in a statement the Philippine boat “failed to detect” the approaching foreign vessel because of poor weather, resulting in a collision that caused the boat to capsize. Among those who died was the captain.
The coast guard said it would contact the Pacific Anna, which according to Eikon data is on its way to Singapore.
The Philippine fishing boat was anchored 85 nautical miles northwest of the disputed Scarborough Shoal when it “accidentally collided” with the transiting foreign commercial vessel on Oct. 2, the Philippine coast guard said. Eleven crew members survived.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said he was saddened by the deaths of the three fishermen and assured their families his government would “hold accountable those who are responsible for this unfortunate maritime incident.
Marcos said the incident was under investigation to ascertain the details and circumstances surrounding the collision.
“Let us allow the PCG to do its job and investigate, and let us refrain from engaging in speculation in the meantime,” Marcos said on the X social media platform, referring to the coast guard.
The coast guard’s Balilo said the Pacific Anna’s owner has yet to be determined.
Tensions around those waters have recently flared up after the Philippines said it removed a 300-metre ball-buoy barrier installed by China’s coastguard near the Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing ground and one of Asia’s most contested maritime features.
The strategic shoal, named after a British cargo vessel that ran aground there in the 18th century, is in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone but was seized in 2012 by China, which has maintained a constant presence of coast guard ships and fishing trawlers there ever since.
China has rejected the Philippines’ version of events over the barrier, while the United States has weighed in with support behind Manila and vowed to honour its treaty commitments to defend its treaty ally if attacked.
(Reporting by Karen Lema and Mikhail Flores; Editing by Martin Petty and Gerry Doyle)