MANILA, Philippines—The Chinese fishing vessel that got stranded on Tubbataha Reef damaged nearly 4,000 square meters of centuries-old coral, the marine park overseeing the reef said on Saturday.
Some 3,902 square meters (42,000 square feet) of coral were destroyed after the boat got stuck stranded in the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park, a Unesco World Heritage-listed coral reef, the park management said.
“The damage the Chinese vessel caused to the reef is heart-breaking,” said Angelique Songco, the head of the marine park, in a statement after experts assessed the affected area.
Some of the coral destroyed by the Chinese vessel was 500 years old, Songco said, adding that the damage was much larger than the area destroyed when a US Navy minesweeper, the USS Guardian, got stranded on Tubbataha in January.
That warship was chopped up and lifted off the reef in pieces to minimize the damage. Estimates of the damaged area ran to 2,400 square meters.
The 48-meter Chinese vessel, the Min Yong Lu, carrying 12 suspected Chinese fishermen, plowed into Tubbataha near the western Philippine island of Palawan on April 8.
Authorities later found hundreds of dead pangolins or anteaters, an internationally-protected species, hidden inside the vessel.
Tubbataha marine park information officer Glenda Simon told Agence France-Presse the 12 Chinese would likely be fined about P95 million for trespassing into the marine park and destroying the coral.
The Philippine government has charged them with poaching and they could face an additional 12 to 20 years in prison for possession of the pangolins in violation of wildlife law.
Pangolins are widely hunted in parts of Asia for their meat, skin and scales and in China they are considered a delicacy and to have medicinal qualities.
The Philippine office of the World Wide Fund for Nature condemned the poaching of the pangolins after the men were caught, saying that growing demand in China was wiping out the animal in Southeast Asia.