Detained foreign tanker now a ‘vessel of interest’ for NICA

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star
Detained foreign tanker now a �vessel of interest� for NICA
The Philippine Coast Guard has detained the MT Hyperline 988 following a report that the foreign vessel was hoisting the Philippine flag in waters off San Felipe, Zambales last May 15. A PCG inspection team (inset) said the seven Chinese crew men, including the ship master, failed to present original and printed versions of relevant documents, a crew list, passports and seaman’s books.
PCG photo

MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese-manned tanker being held by the Philippine Coast Guard since May 15 is now a “vessel of interest” for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the PCG said yesterday.

The PCG detained the MT Hyperline 988 in Zambales after its seven Chinese crew and captain were found with insufficient papers.

Rear Admiral Armand Balilo, PCG spokesman, said that although the “deficiencies” – 26 to 30 in all – were “basic” and could be easily corrected, they still could not release the vessel, as it has some issues with NICA.

The deficiencies include questionable entries in crewmembers’ passports and seaman’s books, expired safety certificates and defective safety equipment certificates.

“According to our PCG National Capital Region-Central Luzon, the ball on whether or not we would release the vessel is not with the PCG, because this vessel is a ‘vessel of interest’ in accordance with the directive issued by the NICA,” Balilo said.

“So, even if they do correct their deficiencies, we would still seek clearance from NICA,” he added.

Asked how long would the PCG detain the ship, Balilo replied, “As long as the deficiencies are not corrected.”

He said he was not aware of NICA’s reason for wanting to have the vessel remain in detention, as the PCG is concerned only about the safety of the vessel and its compliance with regulations.

“They (NICA) did not say why they were interested with MT Hyperline 988, they have their own case buildup, they have their own reasons and only NICA can answer that,” Balilo added.

But he said the PCG is conducting a separate probe on the matter.

Aside from the deficiencies, the MT Hyperline 988 was also reported to have flown the Philippine flag even if it was registered under the flag of Sierra Leone.

Based on initial information received by the PCG, the vessel had already been acquired by a local company.

The PCG is verifying the information and is investigating the reason for the local firm’s purchase of the ship. “We do not know the intention but usually this kind of vessel is for commercial use,” he added.

The MT Hyperline 988 reportedly came from Hong Kong before dropping anchor off San Felipe, Zambales.

The vessel was supposed to go to the Manila anchorage area, but supposedly finding the anchorage fee too high, it opted for a “more affordable option” in Zambales.

San Felipe reportedly does not have any port, thus does not charge docking fees.

The PCG earlier said the vessel did not respond to its communication as its Automatic Identification System was turned off.

Its crew also did not respond to communication sent through handheld radio.


Meanwhile, the PCG said it has deployed 110 personnel to six “critical districts” in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Southwestern Mindanao, where smuggling of humans, firearms and illegal drugs is reportedly rampant.

“We reaffirm our commitment to working together to uphold the highest standards of maritime security and ensure the territorial integrity of our country,” PCG Vice Admiral Rolando Lizor Punzalan Jr., deputy commandant for operations, said in a speech during sendoff ceremonies yesterday.

Vice Admiral Robert Patrimonio, commander of the Maritime Security Law Enforcement Command (MARSLEC), said the six areas were chosen because “they have high maritime traffic, and if there is high maritime traffic, there is a possibility that there would be incidents performed by unscrupulous people.”

While the PCG is generally busy dealing with Chinese acts of provocations in the West Philippine Sea, Patrimonio said “we, at MARSLEC, are more focused on the domestic issues.”

“We are concentrating on (events happening) outside that we need to give attention to what is happening inside (the country). Now, we are cleansing ‘inside’ so that we could strengthen our drive (against criminality) and ensure a smooth flow of maritime economics in our country,” he said.

He stressed smuggling activities are “contributing to the downfall of our economy.”

He said their operations are done in coordination with the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police (PNP), which also train PCG personnel in law enforcement functions.

The PCG has a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Justice-National Prosecution Service regarding the filing of appropriate cases against offenders.

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