Probe on grounding of US ship in Tubbataha to be finalized

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Inquiry into the grounding of the USS Guardian in Tubbataha Reef is set to be finalized following a final meeting between the Philippine Maritime Casualty Investigation Team (MCIT) and US Navy investigators, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.

DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez told reporters the US government will compensate the Philippines for the damage done to Tubbataha Reef.

“The US government will pay appropriate compensation to the Philippines for damage caused by USS Guardian,” he said. “The US made this statement repeatedly. The commitment is they will pay, compensate the Philippines because of the damage.”

Hernandez said the US will also cooperate with the Philippine government to ensure navigational safety is enhanced in the area of Tubbataha Reef.

“The US government will also provide service program aimed at preserving the reef and marine environment,” he said.

Malacañang has belied a report that the US government refused to pay cash to the Philippines for damages in Tubbataha Reef.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said: “I confirmed with DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez and he informed me that the United States government is going to pay in cash also.”

The Tubbataha Management Office has asked the US Navy to pay P58 million ($1.4 million).

The MCIT has received additional documents from the US Navy to augment the data and other information in the safety of navigation inquiry that the Coast Guard is conducting.

The inquiry aims to establish the cause of the grounding of the Guardian in the north side of the South Shoal of  Tubbataha Reef last Jan. 17.

It also aims to identify new measures to be undertaken to prevent a similar grounding.

US Navy officials informed the MCIT that the final report on their investigation will be released soon.

The US Navy turned over to the MCIT on April 4 the digital navigation maps and other documents relevant to its investigation.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Gilberto Asuque said these maps and documents are important to the independent investigation.

Anteaters rotting

The carcasses of anteaters found onboard a Chinese fishing boat stuck in Tubbataha Reef has started to decompose and emit a foul smell.

Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, Coast Guard Palawan District commander, said it has been 13 days since the power generator of the Chinese fishing boat F/B Min Long Yu shut down.

“It has started to smell bad,” he said. “The smell is only being sealed by the hatch cover and a canvass, but if you remove these covers, the smell would come out. This is precisely why we need to bury these anteaters.”

When they inspected the ship last April 9 and discovered the anteaters, they noticed that the ice in the refrigerated cargo hold has already thinned, he added.

Evangelista said before they can bury the carcasses, they must first seek permission from the court hearing the poaching case against the 12 Chinese fishermen found onboard the 48-meter Min Long Yu.

“We need a court ruling allowing us to bury these animals because these could still be used as evidence in the court,” he said. “They should also be counted first, to know their exact number.”

Over the weekend, the burial ground for the anteaters at Irawan, Palawan has already been prepared, Evangelista said.

The Tubbataha Management Office and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development have also to request the court to make the ship captain and chief engineer of Min Long Yu be available during the inventory.

The Coast Guard has reported about 400 boxes inside the cargo hold but they have not conducted a full inventory.

They have so far only opened four boxes, with each box containing five or six skinned anteaters.

Anteaters are regarded as protected wildlife animal in Palawan.

However, authorities have yet to determine if the discovered shipment came from Palawan.

Monitoring Tubbataha

Director Mundita Lim of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) wants to strengthen existing monitoring systems in Tubbataha Reef.

“However, it’s a good thing that corals in the surrounding areas remain healthy, and that Tubbataha is still rich in natural resources,” she said.

Lim said the dilapidated facilities and equipment at the marine ranger station at Tubbataha must be improved.

“In that manner, they (rangers) will be more equipped to monitor and take action when unfortunate incidents happen in Tubbataha,” she said. – With Evelyn Macairan, Rhodina Villanueva, Aurea Calica











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