MANILA - A Vietnamese boat captain who gave refuge to Filipinos thrown overboard after their boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel on June 9 has told of the rescue in the West Philippine Sea, his narration appearing consistent with the story of the Philippine fishers.
In a report by the Saigon Times quoting local news website Vnexpress, boat captain Nguyen Thanh Tam of Vietnamese fishing vessel recounted the rescue before dawn, where his ship took in the 22 Filipino fishermen left at sea after the incident.
In his account, Tam, whose ship is registered in Vietnam's Tien Giang province, said that about 1 a.m. on June 10, while aboard his boat anchored off Truong Sa Islands in the disputed Spratlys, he and his crew were risen by "voices of foreigners," the report published Tuesday read.
Upon checking with their flashlights, they saw two boats on the side of the vessel. Two men made "hand signals as if they were asking for urgent help," the Saigon Times said.
Tam was apprehensive, concerned that the foreigners might be pirates. But then he found that the two men were "both soaking wet and shivering and thought they might have had an accident at sea."
Communicating through hand gestures, they pointed the Vietnamese ship to the direction of Reed Bank, which was about 5 nautical miles away from where the Vietnamese vessel was anchored.
The boat took an hour to reach the site of the incident. Upon arriving, they found 20 Filipino fishermen "wearing life jackets and clinging to plastic barrels and pieces of wood from the shipwreck" of their boat F/B GEM-VER.
"The victims were found to be hungry and quivering. They were picked up by the 10 Tien Giang fishermen, and given rice, instant noodles and warm materials," read the report.
It was then the Filipino fishermen told of how their boat was hit by a ship.
The Filipino fishermen told the Vietnamese crewmen their boat was hit by another ship. The Vietnamese vessel returned to where it was anchored by 5 a.m. and lent the Filipinos their radio to call for help.
A Filipino boat then came to pick up the Philippine fishermen at 2 p.m. of the same day, Tam said.
The Vietnamese boat captain's recollection appeared consistent with the narration of Filipino boat captain Junel Insigne on their rescue.
After being abandoned by a Chinese vessel that sank their boat, Insigne, in his narration to media, had said he dispatched two of his crewmen to find help. They spotted light some five miles away, he said.
After about two hours, the boat reached a vessel, which turned out to be manned by Vietnamese fishermen.
The two Filipino fishermen who first approached the Vietnamese boat, JP Gordiones and Justine Pascual, then gestured that their crewmates needed help, Insigne said.
The Vietnamese allowed them on board and gave them food and a place to rest.
Asked how he knew of their nationality, Insigne said: "Sabi niya, 'Vietnam? Philippines? Friends.' Kaya alam kong Vietnam."
He said if not for the Vietnamese fishermen, they would have all died.
The Chinese government has said the incident was not intentional and that the Chinese vessel tried to rescue the Filipino fishermen but got scared when allegedly besieged by several Filipino vessel.
The Vietnamese boat captain made no mention of seeing other Filipino vessels in the area.
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest against China over the incident, which happened in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines' exclusive economic zone within the disputed South China Sea.
China is claiming nearly all of the resource-rich waters, conflicting with partial claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
On Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo cited conflicting statements between two of the Filipino fishermen in the incident, saying there were "circumstances that give doubt to the version." He said there should be a thorough investigation.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pursued closer ties with China despite the South China Sea dispute, has downplayed the incident saying it was a collision, a "maritime incident."
Malacañang has also said China's ambassador to the Philippines would not be summoned over the incident.