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WESCOM assists Coast Guard as Chinese vessel gets stuck in Tubbataha

Published: Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Only eight days after a US Navy minesweeper was removed from the Tubbataha Reefs, a Chinese fishing vessel was reported to have struck into the eastern part of the protected marine park close to midnight Monday.


According to MGEN RUSTICO O GUERRERO AFP, chief of the Palawan-based Armed Forces Western Command, they sent air asset to the area with Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park (TRNP) executive director Angelique Songco aboard, to “verify details and veracity.”


After being informed by the TRNP management through the Naval Forces West early Tuesday morning, Wescom immediately directed an aerial reconnaissance using the Philippine Navy’s Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander over the area to assist the park authorities, the military commander said.


“The Philippine Coast Guard Palawan has dispatched their vessel, BRP Romblon (SARV 3503) to the area to conduct investigation,” MGEN GUERRERO said.


For their part, Songco said that a team is assessing the damage caused by the grounded Chinese vessel in the southern part of the Tubbataha Reef.


“As of now, we are waiting for further information from rangers. (The bad) weather inhibiting communication with rangers,” Songco said.


Initial reports from the Tubbataha Management Office identified the vessel as “being of Chinese origin,” a fishing boat with the marking 63168 and a crew of 12 Chinese nationals. It was not clear from the report if the vessel had authority to enter Philippine waters.


The vessel got stuck at Tubbataha’s north islet, some 1.1 nautical miles east from where the Ranger Station is located.


Palawan Council on Illegal Entrants chief, lawyer Allen Rodriguez, said that the PCIE is yet to convene on whatever sanctions the Chinese fishermen are liable to.


“Kung fishing vessel yan, liable sila for violation of our Fisheries Code, poaching yan. At dahil sa Tubbataha nangyari, violation din ng Tubbataha Act yan,” Rodriguez said. The 12 Chinese nationals are being escorted by the coast guard to Puerto Princesa City from Cagayancillo town onboard BRP Romblon, for proper disposition.


Last January 17, a US Navy ship ran aground at the world heritage site after a port visit to Subic Bay. Officials have said at least 4,000 square meters of corals have been damaged by the grounding.


The last part of the dismantled USS Guardian was lifted off the reef last March 29. The Coast Guard-monitored salvage operations started on February 22. However, they were stalled at least four times due to bad weather in the reef area.


The US Embassy expressed regret about the incident and reiterated that Washington was prepared to pay for the damage. The Philippines will ask the United States to pay a fine of $1.4 million for the damage caused by the grounding, according to a report.

The fine, according to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, was in compliance with Republic Act 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009.


Under the law, a fine of $600 or P24,000 per square meter of damaged reef is mandatory.



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