Asia Dive News : Cebu Yellow Submarine ordered to halt after damaging reef
The Lapu-Lapu City Government ordered a halt yesterday to the operations of a yellow submarine, one of Cebu’s newest tourism attractions, that ferries passengers to view Mactan Channel below the surface.
What prompted it? A video, shot by a diver, which showed the vessel hitting a coral reef, causing some pieces to fall off.
Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza ordered the Cebu Yellow Submarine Undersea Tour Operation’s business permit suspended immediately.
She also ordered the firm to “cease and desist from operating the submarine pending investigation,” as it violates Republic Act 8550, otherwise known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1989.
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) also ordered the same company to explain why it should not be penalized or fined for allegedly damaging some coral reefs.
In her order yesterday, Marina 7 Director Nannette Z. Villamor-Dinopol asked the company to explain why it failed to submit a marine protest or “to give immediate and effective notice within 24 hours” after the incident last week.
Mayor Radaza said the vessel “hit and caused damage to the corals and destroy the marine habitat within the municipal waters of the city.”
She gave the company five days from receipt of the order to explain why its mayor’s permit should not be revoked permanently.
The order was issued four days after Radaza issued a notice of violation, through Lapu-Lapu City Administrator Teodulo Ybañez.
In that notice, she asked the vessel operator to submit requirements to Marina, the Coast Guard and the Department of Tourism. The company was given three days to comply with the provisions of the notice.
The Cebu Yellow Submarine was launched early this month. Its operator is based in the Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort and Spa.
The submarine can accommodate up to 48 passengers. It descends to 35 meters during its trips, although it can withstand a depth of 100 meters.
The vessel, built in Antwerp, Belgium, is 22.2 meters long, weighs 99 tons and has a maximum speed of five knots.
A yellow submarine hitting a coral reef is easily visible in a video titled “Coral Crusher,” uploaded by a certain Satoshi Toyoda last April 24, 2013.
As of late afternoon yesterday, there were 3,510 views with six likes and 13 dislikes.
A three-member team from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7, led by Coastal Resources and Management Division and Environmental Management Specialist II Efren Cortes of the Environmental Management Bureau, will investigate the incident.
“We just can’t ignore the potential damage to the corals if appropriate measures or interventions will not be institutionalized by the operator of this watercraft, taking into account the strong underwater current in Mactan,” said DENR 7 Regional Executive Director Dr. Isabelo Montejo in a statement.
He said protection measures should be observed at all times so that these underwater ecosystems will be preserved.
“We will make the necessary recommendations to the issuing authority or agency once the report is completed and reviewed,” he added.
In a separate interview, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) 7 Assistant Regional Director Allan Poquita questioned the permit to operate issued to the company, because a briefing on coral reef protection should have been a requirement before it was issued.
He said the agency was not informed of the submarine operations.
In a statement, Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort and Spa said last Friday that an explanation was requested from the submarine operator.
Public Relations officer Angela Emphasis said the results will be announced today during a press conference.
The resort also suspended the submarine’s operations last week.
Emphasis said in an e-mail that after the submarine’s management submitted an explanation to the resort’s mother company, Philippine BXT Corp., last Friday night, the ban on operations was lifted the following day.
Atty. Rose Liza Eisma-Osorio, Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation Inc. (CCEF) director, told Sun.Star Cebu that she suggests submarine operations be stopped until proper guidelines have been formed.
“I think this should be stopped as soon as possible, unless no damage is caused by this kind of eco-tourism activity and (when) appropriate regulations for submarines are issued,” she said.
“Corals are critical marine habitats that are fully protected by our laws,” she added.
Coral reefs serve as the natural habitat and breeding grounds of various marine creatures such as fishes and mollusks. The reefs also serve as barriers protecting the shore from strong waves and currents.
Marina’s Dinopol, for her part, said the failure to submit a marine protest violated the Philippine Merchant Marine Rules and Regulations of 1997.
Dinopol set the hearing of the case at 2 p.m. on May 22, 2013 at the Marina 7 office in Cebu City.
“Failure to appear during the hearing or file its answer on time shall be construed as a waiver of its right to controvert the charge against the respondent, and the case shall be deemed submitted for resolution based on the evidence on record,” read the order.
Last April 2, Anelito Gabisan, operation and safety manager of the yellow submarine, announced the company had received an authority from Marina 7 to operate as a tourist submarine.
Gabisan recently retired from the Coast Guard.
But last Friday, Dinopol said her office did not renew the submarine’s permit, which expired last April 26. It is supposed to be renewed each month.
In a separate interview, Capt. Weniel Azcuna, chief of the Cebu Coast Guard Station, said the agency will also request the submarine’s operator to explain how the incident happened.
“We will look into the integrity of the submarine’s hull,” Azcuna said.
“Those who took the video and posted it in YouTube are urged to give their statement. Let’s see the exact area. If there is no specific area, it would be too costly to locate it,” Azcuna said.