Hong Kong ship suspected in Philippine sinking

MANILA - The Philippines said on Monday they believed a Hong Kong vessel may have rammed a Filipino fishing boat, leaving one person dead and four missing, after initially suspecting China over the accident.

In a statement the country's coast guard said, the fishing boat "was accidentally hit by a Hong Kong-registered bulk vessel, the MV Peach Mountain which was passing the area... with some of the fishermen falling overboard".

Coast guard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo added that three of the survivors of the collision in the South China Sea on June 20 had said that the vessel that struck them had the words "Hong Kong" painted on it.

Balilo described the incident as a "hit-and-run", saying that the ship hit the fishing vessel and then left without trying to help the Filipinos.

The coast guard said it was contacting the Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre for information on the vessel which was initially suspected to be a Chinese ship.

The incident came as China and the Philippines maintain a tense standoff over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said his government had not blamed China directly.

"We are gathering all of the necessary evidence. We are not accusing anybody at this point in time," he told reporters.

He said once the information is obtained, the government would file the necessary charges with the proper agency.

The incident had threatened to complicate the dispute over Scarborough Shoal which both countries claim.

Chinese ships have been based near the shoal since April to stress their country's claim. The Philippines recently withdrew its ships due to bad weather but is considering deploying them again, Aquino said.

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