Philippines vows fair probe after Vietnamese fishermen killed

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano assured his Vietnamese counterpart of a fair and thorough investigation into the deaths of two of its fishermen.

MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines has assured Vietnam of a fair and thorough investigation into the deaths of two of its fishermen during a sea chase incident at the weekend, during which warning shots were fired by a navy ship.

Two crew died and five were arrested on Saturday (Sept 23) about 48km off Pangasinan, north-west of Manila, after the navy corvette encountered Vietnamese vessels deep in the Philippines' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, according to its foreign ministry.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano made the assurance to his Vietnamese counterpart in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

"We would like to offer our sympathies over the unfortunate loss of life and give you our assurance that we will conduct a fair and thorough investigation into this matter," Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Robespierre Bolivar told reporters on Monday, quoting Cayetano.

The Philippines and Vietnam have been close diplomatic allies when it comes to the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China. Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.

On Monday, Vietnam's foreign ministry said it had received information from the Philippines and was investigating.

Vietnam protested violence against fishermen of any kind, it added, asking the Philippines to notify it soon of the official results and to take serious measures if there were violations by Philippine authorities, the statement said.

The Philippines assured Vietnam the detained fishermen would be well treated.

According to the initial Philippine investigation, the navy ship spotted the six Vietnamese vessels by their bright fishing lights.

The boats sped away and the navy gave chase, but the corvette was then rammed by one fishing boat, the navy said, prompting sailors to fire warning shots. When the Vietnamese boat was caught, the crew surrendered and two fishermen were found dead.

Investigators noticed bullet holes in the boat's stockroom, but did not say if they were from the navy's guns.

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