Environmental officials filed a poaching complaint Wednesday against 12 Chinese fishermen who were aboard a vessel that ran aground this week in a protected coral reef in the southwestern Philippines.
Adelina Villena, a lawyer for the Tubbataha National Marine Park, said other complaints were being prepared to be filed with the Palawan provincial prosecutor against the fishermen for alleged offenses including damaging corals, attempting to bribe park rangers and carrying explosives in their vessel.
The steel-hulled vessel strayed Monday into the park in the Sulu Sea and struck an atoll, where it was stranded. A U.S. Navy minesweeper got stuck on another part of the same reef and had to be dismantled recently.
President Benigno Aquino III expressed dismay that another vessel had run aground in Tubbataha, saying charges will be pursued against the fishermen, who could face up to 12 years imprisonment and fines of up to $300,000 for poaching.
“When you enter that zone, there is immediate presumption that you intend to poach, and there are corresponding penalties — there is imprisonment, there is fine — and our job as the executive department is to execute this law,” Aquino said.
Philippine Coast Guard chief Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena said the 80,000 liters (17,598 gallons) of fuel in the vessel would be siphoned to make it lighter and allow for the boat’s removal from the reef during high tide. If that does not work, other options will be explored, he said.
“The good thing about it is so far, as per reports received, the vessel is intact,” Isorena said.
He said authorities were also trying to locate the owner of the boat.
Tubbataha is a 97,000-hectare (239,700-acre) marine sanctuary and popular diving destination 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Manila. It has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural arm, for its rich biodiversity. More....