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Asia Dive News : Chinese vessel runs aground in Tubbataha Reef

A Chinese vessel slammed into the eastern part of the Tubbataha Reef on Monday evening, barely a week after a US Navy minesweeper was removed from the protected coral reef where it also ran aground in January.

The BRP Romblon, a search-and-rescue vessel of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), arrived in Tubbataha before noon Tuesday to assess the damage and possible refloating of the grounded Chinese fishing vessel and bring it to a safer ground.

Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant Commodore Armand Balilo said their immediate plan is to have divers check the extent of the grounding and see if the Chinese vessel can be refloated and towed to Puerto Princesa City, also in Palawan.

"BRP Romblon arrived in the area at 10:55 a.m. Coast Guard divers may inspect the extent of the grounding," Balilo said.

He said the PCG will try to refloat the vessel and then bring it to Puerto Princesa City where the vessel's 12 Chinese crew members can give their statements to Chinese interpreters.

The stricken Chinese ship is 20 meters long, and steel-hulled.

"The instruction of Coast Guard commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena is to escort the Chinese vessel to Puerto Princesa City if we can refloat it. At Puerto Princesa City, there may be interpreters for the Chinese fishermen," Balilo said.

He said the fishermen can be detained in Puerto Princesa City if found to have violated maritime regulations at the protected marine sanctuary.

Last January 17, a US Navy ship ran aground at the world heritage site after a port visit to Subic Bay. Officials have said at least 4,000 square meters of corals have been damaged by the grounding.

The last part of the dismantled USS Guardian was lifted off the reef last March 29. The US Embassy expressed regret about the incident and reiterated that Washington was prepared to pay for the damage.

The Philippines will ask the United States to pay a fine of $1.4 million for the damage caused by the grounding.

Source: Sunstar