F/B GemVer 1
Local fishermen pull 'F/B GemVer 1' to the shores of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro after it was reportedly rammed by a Chinese vessel near Reed Bank (known in Manila as Recto Bank) in the South China Sea, also known in Manila as the West Philippine Sea. Image Credit: Philippine Star

Cavite, Philippines: It was a “little maritime accident”.

So said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte eight days after the sinking of a Filipino boat by a Chinese vessel at the Reed Bank (known in the Philipines as Recto Bank) in the disputed South China Sea, also known in Manila as the West Philippine Sea.

On June 9, Sunday, a Filipino fishing boat F/B GenVir-1 reportedly collided with a Chinese vessel near the bank, leaving the 22 crew members to fend for themselves. 

The Filipino fishing boat F/B Gem-Ver1
The Filipino fishing boat F/B Gem-Ver1 after it was allegedly rammed by a Chinese fishing vessel. The photo was published by Philippine news website Rappler. Image Credit: Rappler

Reed Bank is part of potentially oil-rich reef formation in the disputed waters.

Seismic surveys indicate that the Reed Bank is rich in oil and gas deposits. Initial explorations also yielded positive results but they have only been partly tapped due to conflicting claims from various countries, with exploration projects on both sides currently on hold.

Reed Bank
A location map of the Reed Bank in the Spratlys. Image Credit: SIO, US Navy, NGA, GEBCO


On the night of June 9 (Sunday) a Filipino fishing vessel reportedly collided with a Chinese vessel in the South China Sea. The Filipino boat was anchored on the Recto Bank (international name: Reed Bank) when the incident took place, according to the Philippines' defence minister.

The incident took place between an  Chinese vessel (unnamed) and the Philippine-flagged F/B GemVir-1. The incident sunk the Filipino boat. None of its 22 Filipino crew members lost their lives. Vietnamese fishermen rescued them from the open sea.

The Filipino crew of the fishing boat
The Filipino crew of the fishing boat, wearing "Navy" shirts, after their vessel was allegedly rammed by a Chinese boat in the South China Sea. Image Credit: Philippine Navy

The Filipino boat captain later alleged that a Chinese vessel rammed their boat.


Here's a timeline of what happened

On June 12 (Wednesday) Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a Chinese boat had “collided” with a Filipino boat near Reed Bank, causing the wooden boat to sink. Lorenzana had called for an investigation into the boat’s incident. He alleged that the Chinese vessel had abandoned a sinking Philippine fishing boat after hitting it.

On June 14 (Friday), Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. denounced the action of the Chinese fishing vessel. "What is contemptible and condemnable is the abandonment of the crew to the elements,” Locsin tweeted.

China admitted a Chinese vessel was involved in the sinking of a Philippine boat near Recto Bank (Reed Bank) in the West Philippine Sea.

Later on Friday, the Chinese Embassy claimed the captain of the Chinese vessel "tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen, but was afraid of being besieged by other Filipino fishing boats.”

On June 15 (Saturday) China denied its vessel intentionally hit the Filipino boat that sunk.

On June 16 (Sunday) Vice President Leni Robredo said the crew of the Chinese fishing vessel be found and that China recognise Philippine jurisdiction over the case "so they can face trial before our courts." Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also told local media that the Philippines should hold China responsible.

Late on Sunday Duterte held an emergency Cabinet meeting over the incident. 

On June 17 (Monday), Duterte’s spokesperson said the president was just "waiting for facts" on the collision. The captain of F/B GemVir-1, Junel Insigne, backed out from a scheduled meeting with Duterte. Other crew members attended the meeting.

Boat captain Junel Insigne
The boat captain, Junel Insigne, being interviewed by Philippine media. He backed out from a scheduled meeting with Duterte. Other crew members attended the meeting. Image Credit: Screengrab

'Little maritime incident'

In a speech during Philippine Navy Anniversary on Monday at Sangley Point, Cavite, Duterte said it was a “little maritime accident”.

Duterte blamed politicians, whom he did not name, are just making the situation worse.

Wag kayong maniwala sa mga politiko na bobo, gusto papuntahin yung Navy. (Do not believe in brainless politicians) “You do not send gray ships there. Banggaan lang ng barko ‘yan (it's just a collission of ships), do not make it worse,” said Duterte.

Duterte also said the Philippines is not ready for a nuclear war.

“Alam ninyong mga sundalo, miscommunication lang patay na (You know how is it with soldiers, a miscommunication could lead to death). And we are not yet as ready, and we can never be ready in a nuclear war. Because in a nuclear war, kung bitawan lahat ‘yan (if all nukes are released), the earth will dry up and we will all be destroyed, and that is the end of everything,” he said.