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Chinese fishing vessel runs aground in Tubbataha

One of the two islands marking the surface of Tubbataha Reef, a protected marine santuary and UNESCO heritage site, that has recently been subject to damage when a US Navy warship skidded in the coastal area last January. STEPHEN McGRATH
MANILA, Philippines - Just days after the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian was removed from the Tubbataha Reef, a Chinese fishing vessel ran aground in the treasured marine sanctuary on Monday night.
 
Tubbataha Management Office head Angeline Songco reported the incident to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Tuesday morning for fears of more damage to the reef off Sulu Sea, east of the island of Palawan.
 
Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, spokesman of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), said the Chinese fishing vessel with bow No. 63168 was stuck 1.1 nautical miles east of the Tubbataha Ranger station after running aground in the area at about 11:40 p.m.
 
Balilo said that the area where the Chinese fishing vessel was stuck was far from the part of the reef where the former US minesweeper ran aground last January 17.
 
The grounding of the ex-USS Guardian, which was totally removed from Tubbataha last March 30, damaged 2,345.67 square meters of the reef. The US government faces a fine of P58.4 million for the incident.
 
Balilo said Park Rangers have already boarded the vessel, which has 12 crew members based on reports from Songco.
 
“Park rangers are presently conducting inventory and interrogation on the (Chinese) personnel onboard the fishing vessel [that] are all Chinese,” Balilo said, adding that a coast guard search and rescue vessel has been dispatched to the area.
 
He said that the PCG personnel were also checking the damage of the fishing vessel on the reef. He also said that they were planning to tow the fishing vessel to Palawan shores.
 
The presence of the wooden-hull Chinese fishing boat in Tubbataha, an area already outside of the hotly-contested Spratlys region, bolstered earlier reports that Chinese fishing boats have been going in and out of the country’s maritime domain freely.
 
Military intelligence reports showed that Chinese defense and military leaderships have been sending their fishing vessels to Philippine waters as decoys to spy on the ongoing development of the Philippines gas field project, specifically within the Malampaya Gas Field off the coast of Palawan.
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