By Francisco Tuyay
For the third time this year, rangers of the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park spotted a foreign vessel poaching off the protected area and rangers were forced fire warning shots to drive them away, officials reported on Saturday.
According to state-run Philippines News Agency, the foreign vessel was flying a Philippine flag when it was spotted around 9 p.m. Friday about 3.4 nautical miles east of the reef’s North Atoll.
When rangers noticed that the vessel, estimated to be about 60 gross tons, was only half a nautical mile away from the reef, they decided to inspect the vessel at around 10 p.m. and saw it had Vietnamese markings and was towing a line with bright lights.
The foreign vessel fled to the northeast as the rangers approached and the park rangers fired several warning shots in an attempt to stop them. The vessel, however, raced out of the park’s boundary.
Commodore Joseph Rustom Peña of the Naval Force West said Tubbataha Management Office chief Angelique Songco informed him of the incident on Saturday morning, but the naval command dispatched a patrol gun boat to the park anyway.
It was the third time this year a foreign vessel was spotted at Tubbataha Reef.
On January 17, the American minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground at the park and damaged 2,345.67 square meters of the reef.
The US Navy concluded that towing the ship off the reef would cause more damage and decided to dismantle the ship in place and it was totally removed on March 30. More....