Defense officials on Tuesday retracted earlier pronouncements by the government that a ship “rammed” a fishing boat off Bolinao, Pangasinan, and caused it to sink.

In a hastily-called press briefing, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the fishing boat’s captain Edemio Balmores issued a statement saying his boat, the FB Axl John, was not “rammed.”

“Balmores claims that the ship passed near them but did not actually ram them. However, it also did not also stop to rescue them,” Gazmin told reporters.

The boat skipper also recanted earlier statements to the media that his watercraft was tied to a “payaw” (an artificial reef) when they encountered the large ship.

“Ang nangyari dito, una nakatali but because of bad weather, malakas ang waves, natangal and their fishing boat was already almost submerged,” Gazmin said, citing Balmores’ statement to Navy investigators.

Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama, for his part, said they have yet to determine if it was the Hong Kong-registered MV Peach Mountain that was involved in the incident.

Citing information from the Coast Watch station in Zambales, Pama said the cargo vessel was spotted near San Narciso around 8:45 a.m., almost five hours before the incident on June 18.

The Peach Mountain was then moving north at 353 degrees with the speed of 10.1 knots, making it almost impossible for the ship to be in waters off Bolinao during the time of the incident, according to the Navy chief.

“If we are just going to compute on the basis of the speed of the ship at 9 in the morning, she cannot be in that particular which is 130 nautical miles away… it would take her 13 hours to be in the location where the incident happened,” Pama said.

However, the Navy chief noted that this was still not a “definitive conclusion” as factors like water current and wind direction may increase, or decrease, a ship’s speed.

“At this time, we are in southwest monsoon period so ‘yung general direction ng hangin saka alon ay papuntang northeast so possible rin na bumilis yung barko, possible rin na na-maintain niya ‘yung speed,” he said.

Earlier, Balmores was quoted in media reports as saying that a ship that was moving north hit the FB Axl John.

Pama also put a question against this, saying the skipper could have been “disoriented” after having floated in the sea for three days.

Meanwhile, the Navy chief said they identified “not less than 90 ships,” including the Peach Mountain, as having passed by the area 24 hours before and after the incident.

Navy investigators will identify which of the 90 passed near Bolinao at the hour of the incident, he said.

“These are cargo vessels that we have monitored,” Pama said, shrugging off concerns that the ship involved may be one of the Chinese law enforcement ships circling nearby Scarborough Shoal.

Meanwhile, Office of Civil Defense administrator Benito Ramos said rescuers are still searching for fishermen Fred Celino, Arnold Garcia, Domy de los Santos, and Amante Resonable, who went missing after the incident. (John Roson)

– end –