Chinese vessel removed from Tubbataha

(Updated 4:42 p.m.) Authorities removed Friday afternoon the Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground in Tubbataha Reef earlier this month, the Philippine Coast Guard said. "Oo natanggal na, hahatakin na lang," Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Armand Balilo said in a phone interview with GMA News Online. The vessel was removed at 2:20 p.m., the Coast Guard said at a press briefing. "Dati nung gumalaw siya malaki portion niya napunta sa malalim kaya nung nag-high tide kanina nahatak na siya," Balilo said during the briefing. The Coast Guard, however, has yet to assess the damage that was caused by the grounding to the world famous reef.

"Wala pa. Next na 'yung damage assessment," Balilo said. The Chinese fishing vessel was being towed to Puerto Princesa City in Palawan as of posting time by MT Limay for inspection. "I ordered a more detailed inspection of the vessel para lahat na 'di na-cover nun [ma-cover], at lahat makita kung may evidence," Coast Guard commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said during the same briefing. The 12 Chinese nationals aboard the fishing vessel, meanwhile, have been arrested and detained at the Palawan Provincial Jail after they were charged for poaching and trying to bribe park officials. A radio dzBB report had earlier said that the Chinese fishermen admitted that they were on a fishing venture at the time they entered Tubbataha Reef after coming from Malaysia. At least 400 boxes of frozen anteaters were found inside their vessel, although authorities have yet to confirm whether these were taken from Philippine territory. Each of the boxes reportedly contained 25 to 30 frozen anteaters. Balilo had earlier cited information saying anteaters are reportedly used by Chinese as traditional medicine. International wildlife authorities consider anteaters close being a threatened species. Isorena said they will comb the vessel for more evidence against the suspects. The Chinese vessel ran aground in the Tubbataha Reef last April 8, or three months after a similar incident involving the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian at the world famous site. The US vessel was removed from the reef last March 30. — Kimberly Jane Tan/KBK/HS, GMA News

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