February 8, 2023
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has sought the assistance of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to take custody of the undocumented Chinese nationals from a distressed foreign vessel that was rescued off the coast of Eastern Samar late last month.
Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG adviser of the commandant for maritime security, said the ship’s crew members, five Chinese and two Hong Kong nationals, failed to provide valid identification.
“We have reached out to the DOJ and BI to take custody of these undocumented Chinese nationals because they don’t have any passports or immigration documents to show,” he told the Inquirer on Tuesday.
The PCG rescued MV Kai Da 899 last Jan. 27, after receiving a report that the vessel was in distress in waters northeast of Suluan Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. A further investigation later showed that it was a supply vessel and not a Chinese fishing vessel as initially reported.
Aside from the lack of proper identification for the crew members, the vessel did not have pertinent documents for its operations.
The boat captain presented only a certificate of deletion of registration from the Chinese government, which meant that it was a “stateless vessel.”
The representatives of the vessel’s owner, identified as Mr. Guohua Song and Mrs. Cherry Song, have so far failed to provide documents to prove ownership of the ship.
Tarriela said the PCG was also skeptical on how the 54.6-meter vessel, which the crew claimed was sailing from Fujian to Guangdong in China for repair, ended up on the country’s eastern seaboard.
“It is suspicious because if the vessel lost propulsion in Bashi Channel (a waterway between Taiwan and the Philippines) as they claimed, it should have drifted toward the western seaboard and not the eastern seaboard because of the northeasterly winds and southward current in Bashi Channel at the time,” he said.
Based on the investigation, it was unusual that the crew chose to navigate a longer route from Fujian to Guangdong, which are neighboring provinces, he added.
It was likely that the vessel’s intended destination was not really Guangdong, contrary to the captain’s claim, because the approximate distance where they encountered a steering failure was farther than their planned route, Tarriela explained.
Investigators also found 28 deficiencies when they conducted a vessel safety enforcement inspection, but no details of the defects were provided.
Tarriela said the PCG has advised the Philippine government to take custody also of the rescued vessel, since it was considered a “stateless vessel” and no proof of ownership has been so far provided.
The vessel, which has been docked off San Pedro Bay in Tacloban City for the last 10 days, made a distress call after it encountered a mechanical problem and was sailing off Suluan Island on the night of Jan. 26. It was towed by the PCG’s patrol ship BRP Cabra to the Tacloban City port the next day.
It was inspected by the coast guard last Jan. 28 and Lt. Cmdr. Ramil Montemar, chief of PCG Eastern Leyte-Tacloban, said nothing illegal or suspicious was found inside the vessel, though they were able to get a copy of the certificate of deletion of ship registration issued by the Chinese government.
Among the information written on the certificate was that the ship was categorized as a supply vessel, which means the vessel is being used to provide fuel and other essentials to boats that need them.
“The crew members will not be allowed to disembark as the Coast Guard will provide their food and water and even fuel, if necessary,” Montemar said. “They will also
ensure that during their anchorage, there will be no possible oil spill.”
All were also checked by the Bureau of Quarantine to ensure they were free from COVID-19 as shown in their vaccination cards.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila earlier thanked the PCG for rescuing the Chinese nationals, whom it had described as fishermen.
Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said the PCG had informed him directly that the seven were in good physical condition.
“Our sincere gratitude and deep appreciation to [Coast Guard Adm. Artemio Manalo Abu] and PCG for their immediate response and humanitarian efforts to help the
Chinese fishing vessel and seven fishermen on board,” he said in a statement dated Jan. 27.
He added that the incident showed the “concrete implementation” of the consensus reached by President Marcos and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping to strengthen communication and improve dialogue mechanisms between the two Coast Guards, as well as to manage maritime differences through consultation while expanding practical cooperation on the sea.