Death of 2 Vietnamese fishermen being probed

MANILA — Malacañang on Monday said that a “fair and thorough” probe is now ongoing to look into the incident involving the Philippine Navy and a Vietnamese fishing boat illegally fishing in Philippine waters that led to the death of two Vietnamese nationals and the arrest of five others.

“Authorities are now conducting a fair and thorough investigation into the incident involving a Philippine Navy vessel and Vietnamese fishing boats which were seen fishing 34 nautical miles off Cape Bolinao in Pangasinan well within the exclusive economic zone,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a Palace briefing.

According to reports, the Vietnamese fishing vessel was spotted by naval patrols about 32 nautical miles west of Bolinao, Pangasinan.

“The incident led to the death of two Vietnamese nationals and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is closely coordinating with the officials of the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila to update them on the developments and to facilitate their access to the five other Vietnamese fishermen taken into custody by the Philippine Navy,” Abella said.

The fatalities in the incident that happened in part of the West Philippine Sea early on Saturday were identified as Phan Van Liem, 41; and Le Van Reo, 41, both of Phu Yen province in Vietnam.

Those arrested were Pham To, 34, the boat captain; Phan Lam, 34; Nguyen Thanh Chi, 49; Phan Van Liem, 41; and Nguyen Van Treong, 41, also of Phu Yen province in Vietnam.

A spot report from the Pangasinan Provincial Police Office (PPPO) released early Monday stated that an initial investigation showed that while the PN vessel was steaming and tacking at about 34 nautical miles off Cape Bolinao, it sighted six sets of super lights, a fishing gadget banned under the Philippine Fisheries Law, prompting the Navy personnel to proceed to the area and conduct verification.

It confirmed that the six Vietnamese fishing vessels are engaged in illegal fishing in the area.

The report stated that one of the Vietnamese fishing boats located nearest to the PN vessel immediately turned off the lights and sped off, prompting the Navy to chase it.

The foreigners allegedly engaged pursuing naval authorities in a firefight while trying to escape.

At about 4 p.m. Saturday, a joint investigating team from PPPO’s Provincial Investigation and Detective Management Branch, Regional and Provincial Crime Laboratory Office, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG, Maritime Group, Regional Investigation Division of the Police Regional Office 1 (PRO1), Coast Guard and  Sual Police and Bolinao police stations, together with the Philippine Navy proceeded to the place for investigation.

However, the members of the team were not able to board the vessels due to bad weather condition. At that time, the BRP Miguel Malvar with 49 crewmen on board headed by commanding officer Wilmer Base, the ship captain, was instructed by Acting Commander Archibald Delfin  of Naval Task force 11 to tow the Vietnamese fishing vessel  to the  Sual Fishport in Pangasinan.

At about 2 a.m. Sunday, the Vietnamese fishing vessel reached the Sual Wharf where it was immediately docked.

Afterwards, the investigating team together with the agents of the Bureau of Immigration headed by Cristopher Abella boarded the fishing vessel and started the investigation.

Initial investigation revealed that the vessel has a total of seven crew members, including the two dead fishermen.

A Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) team from the Provincial Crime Laboratory Office in Lingayen, Pangasinan processed the Vietnamese fishing vessel where it was able to recover two deformed and fragmented fired bullet and one deformed and fragmented bullet jacket.

The bodies of the slain Vietnamese nationals were taken to a morgue for autopsy while their surviving companions are under the custody of the Bolinao police. with reports from Leonardo Micua/