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Grounded Chinese Ship in Tubbataha Raises Varied Concerns

F/V Min Long Yu, a Chinese fishing vessel ran aground Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site last April 8, 2013. (Photo from the Tubbataha Management Office)
F/V Min Long Yu, a Chinese fishing vessel ran aground Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site last April 8, 2013. (Photo from the Tubbataha Management Office)

The fishing vessel stranded in Tubbataha Reef is more than just the issue of ships posing hazards to protected marine-life sanctuaries but rather reveals more issues of concern for every Filipino.

The Grounding

The F/V Min Long Yu, a Chinese fishing vessel with bow number 63168, ran aground in the North Atoll of the Tubbataha Reef in the evening of April 8, 2013. It has been the second grounding on the protected reef following the USS Guardian which was stuck in the protected marine sanctuary on January 17 and was only fully removed early April. The USS Guardian has damaged approximately 2,345.67 square meters for which the US government faces PhP58.4 million or USD1.5 million in fines.

According to the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), their rangers boarded the boat and found fishing nets but saw no fish or other marine life. Also, rangers reported that the fishermen attempted to bribe them with US$2400 or roughly a hundred thousand pesos.

The 12 Chinese are now detained in the Provincial Jail of Palawan after their inquest last April 11 in the Provincial Prosecutor Office, Puerto Princesa City.

In light of reports that the Philippine flag was seen hoisted on the vessel and that the alleged fishing vessel dubiously lacks fish catch, various speculations surfaced on the nature and activity of the Chinese vessel. Suspicions were also raised on the identities of the 12-man crew.

But a second inspection last April 13 revealed more about the nature of the stranded vessel: 400 boxes holding an estimated 2000 anteaters or pangolins were discovered in the cargo hold. The pangolins, locally called balintong, are endangered species and protected by certain laws in the Philippines. Pangolins in the Philippines are found in Palawan. It is yet to be determined if the pangolins are indeed from Palawan as reports claim that it came from Indonesia.

The Philippine Coast Guard has tried but failed to pull the stranded ship to remove it from the reef. According to the TMO, F/V Min Long Yu remains unstable and the 500-ton fishing vessel continues to pound the coral reef, particularly at high tide.

Why be concerned?

The recent news on Tubbataha reef is raising concerns on environmental protection, smuggling, maritime law enforcement, and illegal wildlife trade, among others.

Maritime Law Enforcement: With the Philippine government’s limited resources, it can hardly patrol the vast coastlines and territorial waters of the country. It is common that Chinese fishing vessels enter Philippine waters to fish. With such occurrence, Filipino fishermen are deprived of marine resources. Also, destructive means of fishing needs to be policed.

Also, the Chinese vessel was flying a Philippine Flag as a ploy to deceive Philippine naval patrol. This highlights its smuggling operations, which is another problem in enforcing maritime laws. Because of the vast territorial waters and limited patrols of the country, the Philippines would likely be a preferable maritime thoroughfare of smuggling and other illegal activities.

Marine Protection: The Philippines is dubbed as a center of marine biodiversity, such rich marine environment provides food for many Filipinos and needs to be protected.

Aside from illegal fishing activities in territorial waters, overfishing and destructive means of fishing pose a threat to the rich marine environment. Also, there is always a risk for ships to run aground our coral reefs. The grounding of the USS Guardian alone has done great damage to a portion of Tubbataha Reef which is a famous diving destination that brings tourists and income. With the degeneration of the marine environment, fishing and tourism will suffer  major losses.

Illegal Wildlife Trade: The capture of the shipment of pangolins is just a small part of the illegal wildlife trade. The WWF noted that the illegal trade rakes at least $19 billion per year. The Philippines has its share of wildlife trade with the poaching of endemic birds, the tokay gecko or tuko, and other species that are being hunted relentlessly. Such practices can cause the extinction of endangered and protected species and affect the biodiversity and balance of Philippine ecosystems. Also, the illegal entry of animals can propagate diseases that affect animals, plants, and even humans

 

Around 2000 butchered anteaters or pangolins were found on board F/V Min Long Yu. Pangolins, despite being endangered and protected in status, are traded as a delicacy and for its believed effect in traditional Chinese medicine. (Photo from the Tubbataha Management Office)
Around 2000 butchered anteaters or pangolins were found on board F/V Min Long Yu. Pangolins, despite being endangered and protected in status, are traded as a delicacy and for its believed effect in traditional Chinese medicine. (Photo from the Tubbataha Management Office)

The Challenge

“It is bad enough that these Chinese have illegally entered our seas, navigated without boat papers and crashed recklessly into a national marine park and World Heritage Site,”  WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said in a statement.

The grounding of the Chinese Ship is an utmost challenge to the country’s commitment to protect its marine resources and wildlife from destruction and abuse, and its maritime boundaries from crime or being a channel of illegal activities. The challenge is to enforce sterner laws and promote the protection of the country’s rich marine resources among citizens.

Filipinos need to be concerned because being in a country that is a center of biodiversity, there are countless benefits to reap with such great resources. But such resources are finite and many are endangered. Hence, the need to be vigilant and protective.

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