Coast Guard insists dredger is Chinese
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Thursday insisted that the dredger seized last week because of its “illegal and unauthorized presence” in Philippine waters is a Chinese company-owned vessel.
“Upon verification, the PCG and the Bureau of Customs found out that MV Zhonhai 68 is registered under the Republic of Sierra Leone, and is owned by Chinese company HK Weifeng Hangyun Co., Limited[,] located at Flat B07 Floor 23, Hover Industrial Building, No. 26-38 Kwai Cheong Road, N.T., Hong Kong,” PCG spokesperson Cmdr. Armand Balilo said, citing the vessel’s Overseas Marine Certification Services (OMCS).
“Further investigation revealed that the OMCS of the said vessel was issued on Sept. 3, 2018, in Shanghai, China,” he added.
The agency issued the statement after the Chinese Embassy in Manila on Wednesday denied reports that the dredger is a Chinese-owned vessel.
The embassy also slammed what it described as “media speculation” the reports attributing ownership of the boat to China.
When it was held by Philippine authorities last Wednesday, the ship was flying the Sierra Leone flag—a flag of convenience said to take advantage of lower taxes and cheap labor.
“But its ownership is still China,” the PCG said, adding that the ship should have left the country over a year ago.
Along with another Chinese dredger Zhonhai 88, the Zhonhai 68 figured in a controversy involving sand extraction off Masinloc, Zambales, in 2019.
However, it moved to Aparri for another dredging operation that year.
It then sailed to Hagonoy, Bulacan, supposedly for repairs and conversion, but the PCG said the vessel had no papers to show for those purposes.
A Coast Guard patrol spotted the Zhonhai 68 off Orion Point in Bataan last week and seized it.
‘Not a Chinese ship’
The Chinese Embassy, in a statement, said that “initial investigation on the identity of MV Zhonhai 68 by relevant Chinese authorities has shown that the ship is not registered in China and not a Chinese ship.”
It also noted that there was no Chinese national on the 2,340-ton vessel when it was seized by the PCG.
Citing information from the International Maritime Organization, the Chinese Embassy said the ship with IMO No. 8692665 is under the flag of Sierra Leone.
“The embassy hopes that any responsible remarks and reports should be based on facts, rather than speculation and misinformation,” the embassy’s statement said.
Nevertheless, it assured Philippine authorities that China is ready to render assistance in the investigation “should there be such a need.”
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