MANILA, Philippines—The Chinese fishing vessel found carrying thousands of kilos of scaly anteater meat that has been removed from the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan where it ran aground two weeks ago is now in the provincial capital of Puerto Princesa City where the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will conduct an inventory of its cargo.
PCG Palawan district chief Commodore Enrico Evangelista said the fishing boat Ming Long Yu arrived in Puerto Princesa at around 8:30 a.m. yesterday after it was towed from the reef by the MT Limay.
Evangelista told the Inquirer that the boat was generally “in good condition.” He said they would summon the vessel’s captain and chief engineer so they could be present when the PCG inspects the vessel.
In that case, whatever would be found on the boat would be known to have come from the vessel, he said.
Evangelista said the Coast Guard would also coordinate with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development on how to dispose of the ship’s cargo.
“We need to have an inventory to find out what’s inside. Everything should be in proper legal order,” he added.
Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, PCG spokesperson, said the boat would be held in custody by the Coast Guard and will be checked again for any hidden compartments.
Authorities found no fish or any contraband on board during an initial inspection when they boarded the boat for the first time a day after it struck the reef on April 8.
During closer inspection days later, Coast Guard officers discovered 400 boxes, each containing 25-30 kilograms (55-66 pounds) of frozen pangolins, or scaly anteaters, with their scales already removed.
Wildlife officials are still trying to determine which of the four Asian pangolin species the meat comes from. The International Union of Conservation of Nature lists two species as endangered—the Sunda, or Malayan, pangolin, and the Chinese pangolin. Two others, including the Philippine pangolin endemic to Palawan, are classified as near threatened.
The animals are protected in many Asian nations. Despite an international trade ban in effect since 2002, their trade continues illicitly. The meat and scales of the pangolin are believed to cure various ailments.
Balilo said the Tubbataha Management Office, which oversees the marine park, will examine the extent of reef damage to determine the amount of fines to be imposed on the Chinese boat owners.
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. They entered a plea of not guilty to the poaching charge. With a report from AP