MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Lt Cmdr Armand Balilo said that, “if possible,” the Coast Guard wants to refloat the Chinese vessel that ran aground on Tubbataha reef so that it may be taken to Puerto Princesa, where it can be brought under the custody of the Provincial Committee for Illegal Entrants.
Should authorities fail to float the 500-gross ton vessel with bow number 63168, the Coast Guard will transport the fishermen to Puerto Princesa City for the filing of charges against them, the Tubbataha Management Office said in a statement.
The Coast Guard vessel, BRP Romblon, arrived in the area at around 10:55 am Tuesday, April 9, Balilo said, but park rangers were not able to question the individuals on board the boat due to language barrier.
An inventory of fish and other marine life inside the boat was conducted. There were fishing nets were onboard the 48-meter vessel, according to Tubbataha park rangers, but no fish or marine life were found.
In a statement, the Tubbataha Management also said the fishermen tried to bribe their way out of the incident. Park rangers now have custody of the US$2,400 allegedy used to bribe them.
To determine the extent of the damage, the coast guard and Tubbataha park rangers also intend to conduct diving operations.
Under Republic Act No. 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009, anyone who fishes or gathers corals and/or marine life, shall face imprisonment of between 6 years and 1 day to 12 years and a fine of between P100,000 to P250,000, as well as an additional administrative fine of P100,000 to P250,000.
The Tubbataha management will also confiscate the offender’s equipment, gears and vessels.
The incident occurred more than a week after salvage teams removed from Tubbataha the USS Guardian, which was stuck in the area for more than 10 weeks. A fine of P58-M was imposed on the US Navy for coral damage. – Rappler.com
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