MANILA, Philippines—The Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground in Tubbataha reef earlier this month was “successfully towed and removed” from its grounding site, the Philippine Coast Guard said.
PCG spokesman Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo said the Chinese vessel (F/V Min Long Yu) was extracted at around 2:20 p.m. Friday by Malayan Towage tugboat M/T Limay.
The Chinese vessel will be towed to Puerto Princesa City for “deeper vessel inspection” particularly on discovered anteaters carried by the vessel.
“It will be subjected to a more rigid inspection to see if there are other pieces of evidence against the so-called Chinese fishermen found aboard the vessel,” Balilo said, adding that the boat’s hull and propeller have remained intact.
All pieces of evidence which will be gathered and collected by the investigating team will be turned over to the Philippine Council for Illegal Entrants who is in-charge of filing charges against the 12-crew member of the said foreign vessel, Balilo said.
Wildlife officials are trying to determine if the thousands of carcasses of pangolin, or scaly anteater, found on the Chinese vessel were a local species. Some 400 boxes each containing five to six dead pangolin were discovered aboard the Ming Long Yu.
“It’s bad enough (that) the Chinese illegally entered our seas, navigated without papers and crashed recklessly into a national marine park and World Heritage Site,” said WWF-Philippines vice chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. “It is simply deplorable that (the Chinese) appeared to be posing as fishermen to trade in illegal wildlife.”
Pangolins are scaly mammals similar to “sloth-like olive lizards” found throughout Asia and Africa, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines.
“Eight species exist—all threatened by habitat loss plus illegal trade in their meat and unique scales, which are used for both traditional medicine and the curio trade,” a statement from WWF-Philippines said.
Extent of damage
An assessment has yet to be conducted to determine the extent of damage on the reefs brought about by the grounding incident, the PCG spokesperson said.
The Chinese vessel ran aground the Tubbataha Reef on April 8, or three months after a similar incident at the world-famous site involving the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian. The US vessel was finally removed from the area on March 30.
The 12 Chinese nationals on the fishing vessel are now detained at the Palawan Provincial Jail after being charged with poaching and trying to bribe park officials.
At a hearing in Puerto Princesa, the men entered a plea of not guilty to the poaching charge, while their lawyer Alex Jagmiz asked for more time to prepare his case.
“We don’t have enough interpreters,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, at the Tubbataha Reef on Friday, a tourist suffered decompression sickness after a deep dive, the PCG reported.
Balilo identified the diver as Astrid Schieser, a 49-year-old Austrian national, who was assisted by Coast Guard personnel on board BRP Romblon that happened to be near the area to monitor the grounded Chinese fishing vessel. Shieser was taken to Puerto Princesa City for medical assistance.