And now, Tubbataha has two black eyes.
Barely a week after the USS Guardian was removed from Tubbataha’s South Atoll, another vessel has run aground the Philippines’ top coral reef.
At 1140H last 8 April, Tubbataha Park Rangers discovered the F/V Min Long Yu, a Chinese fishing vessel with bow number 63168, floundering 1.1 nautical miles east of the Ranger Station, part of Tubbataha’s North Atoll.
The two atolls are the only land-masses jutting out of the Sulu Sea and form the core zone of the 97,030-hectare park – which is wholly off-limits to fishers.
The 12-man Chinese crew, which supposedly sailed from Fujian Province in Southeastern China, allegedly tried to bribe the Tubbataha Rangers with USD2400 (roughly PHP100,000). The Rangers flatly refused and continued inspecting the vessel, which measured 48 meters from bow to stern and had an estimated displacement of 500 gross tonnes. Found aboard were nets and fishing paraphernalia – but no marine life.
The crew have now been brought to Puerto Princesa City to face charges. Possible violations include Sections 19 (Unauthorized Entry), 20 (Damages to the Reef), 26 (Destroying or Disturbing of Resources) and 27 (Poaching by Foreigners) of Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009.
The same fine of PHP24,000 (USD600) per square meter of damaged or destroyed coral reef, which was levelled against the errant crew of the USS Guardian, shall be levelled against the Chinese. A corruption case under Article 212 of the Philippines’ Revised Penal Code might also be filed.
If found guilty, the Chinese face fines ranging from PHP100,000 (USD2500) to PHP4M (USD100,000) plus jail terms of one to 12 years. The Philippine Coast Guard aims to refloat the grounded vessel within the week. Once escorted to Puerto Princesa, the Tubbataha Management Office plans to confiscate the vessel along with all onboard equipment. An assessment of the damage wrought to North Atoll has been slated for next week.
F/V Min Long Yu is the seventh Chinese fishing vessel caught prowling the Tubbataha Reefs since 2002. Time and again, foreign poachers have intruded upon the country’s rich waters. In Palawan alone, over 660 Chinese have been arrested fishing illegally over the last decade. Some vessels were apprehended repeatedly. Many more were never caught.
On 21 December 2006, 30 Chinese poachers aboard the F/V Hoi Wan were apprehended 1.5 nautical miles from Tubbataha’s South Atoll. More than 2300 high-value fish, including live Grouper, Red Snapper and 359 endangered and legally-protected Napoleon Wrasse were discovered in the vessel holds.
In the same year, 24 Chinese blast fishermen aboard the M/V Kwok Wai Ming were caught poaching off Mangsee Island in Southern Palawan.
China’s fishing fleet is now the world’s largest. Over 20,000 Chinese fishermen work aboard 1500 decked vessels which operate – legally or otherwise – in 60 countries globally.
“Unlike the USS Guardian, this is clearly a commercial fishing vessel – which means it is likely that they entered Tubbataha to fish. However,” explains WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, “It is well-known that Tubbataha is a no-take zone.”
A week earlier, composite salvage teams finished a 10-week operation to recover the hulk of the USS Guardian. The salvage operation cost over PHP1.8B (USD45M). TMO imposed a PHP58M (USD 1.4M) fine for the 2345.67 square meters of reef crushed by the wooden-hulled American ship.
“The F/V Min Long Yu not only planned to rob us of food by attempting to fish within our territorial waters – it gave Tubbataha its second black-eye, virtually obliterating a portion of a reef which generates food for millions of Filipinos,” concludes Tan.
“We respect all cultures, but those who continually defy our laws are sabotaging legitimate trade between our nations, making their countrymen lose face. Make no mistake, WWF will not take kindly to poachers.” (30)
ATTACHED IMAGE – The F/V Min Long Yu, a 48-meter Chinese fishing vessel, ran aground Tubbataha’s North Atoll last 8 April. Though smaller than the 68-meter USS Guardian, the Chinese ship is steel-hulled, which is far more destructive to coral reefs. TMO, which is leveling a PHP58M (USD1.4M) fine against the US Navy for destroying 2345.67 square meters of coral reef, will now file charges against the Chinese poachers. (TMO Archives)
For further information:
Tubbataha Reefs Protected Area Superintendent
Tubbataha Reefs Project Manager, WWF-Philippines
Communications & Media Manager, WWF-Philippines