Chinese dredger ship impounded offshore, crew investigated
MANILA, Philippines – Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Arturo Valdez said a dredger vessel docked near the Aklan River has been barred by the government from leaving Philippine waters until an ongoing investigation is completed.
The ship, MV Zhong Hai 18, was commissioned by Santarli (STL) Panay Resources Company Limited to dredge the silted Aklan River.
“Authorities would continue to hold MV Zhong Hai 18 and its crewmen indefinitely,” Valdez added, after he served a cease and desist order on Tuesday, January 31.
Valdez said the ship has no DENR-issued mineral ore export permit for shipping and transporting outside the Philippines.
Eighteen crew members of the MV Zhong Hai 18 also had no proper employment or working permits and are violating pertinent immigration and labor laws.
Valdez also cited initial environmental violations of STL of its environmental compliance certificate (ECC). It also failed to consult the constituents of Bakhaw Norte and the local government of Kalibo on dredging operations.
Bakhaw Norte, an island barangay of capital town of Kalibo, is bounded by the Aklan River and Sibuyan Sea.
Premature dredging and protests
Residents of Bakhaw Norte expressed alarm at the ship's presence after its dredging equipment carried out underwater activities last month without the necessary permits to begin dredging.
The steel-haul general cargo ship MV Zhong Hai 18 arrived in the Philippines from the Port of Zhuhai, China. It anchored near the mouth of Aklan River in the Sibuyan Sea on November 22, 2016. Built in 2011, Zhong Hai 18 has a total length of 95.50 meters and a molded breadth of 16.80 meters. Its port of registry is in Suva, Republic of Fiji.
STL, the proponent of Aklan River dredging, is supposed to wait for the ‘as-staked survey’ approval of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) national office.
On January 23, the project’s multi-partite monitoring team from DENR noted the ship was loaded with 1,200 cubic meters of sand dredged in two compartments during its inspection on board.
After confirming their allegations that MV Zhong Hai 18 was engaged in ‘premature’ dredging, some 100 residents protested at the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer-Aklan (PENRO-Aklan) and DPWH-Aklan District offices on January 26 to stop the ship's operations.
That same day, PENRO-Aklan chief Ivene Reyes issued a cease and desist order and a show cause order to STL managing director Patrick Lim.
On January 30, DENR Secretary Regina Lopez personally received complaints regarding the dredging operations from Kalibo mayor William Lachica, Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Harry Sucgang, and Bakhaw Norte village chief Maribeth Cual.
On January 31, Lopez ordered Undersecretary Valdez and the National Environment Crime Task Force to implement the cease and desist order of DENR on STL and MV Zhong Hai 18.
Valdez was accompanied by representatives of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Army and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Cual, who led the crusade against STL, thanked DENR Secretary Lopez for her immediate action on dredging complaints.
To allay the fears of Bakhaw Norte residents, Cual said they will continue to monitor the activities of MV Zhong Hai 18. – Rappler.com