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Tubbataha rangers radar off during time of grounding


Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) head Angelique Songco on Tuesday admitted that their radar was not switched on during the time of the Chinese fishing vessel's grounding midnight Monday.

"We switch on our radar every three hours. We do not have the resources to keep the radar equipment on 24/7. Sometimes it's between those three hours that our rangers are blind," Songco said in a radio interview.

She added that even if they detected the Chinese early, the fishermen would likely have ignored their attempts to communicate with them via radio.

The TMO head said Chinese vessels in the past had refused to answer radio calls. She added even attempts to use universal frequencies were futile because the Chinese would "block" those frequencies by playing music.

Songco added that fishing vessel measured 48 meters long and eight meters wide. The Chinese fishing vessel had run aground off Tubbataha Reef 1.1 nautical miles from the ranger station shortly before midnight Monday.

Its 12 crewmembers are now undergoing interrogation, although Songco said they still could not communicate with them as the former is speaking in Mandarin.

Songco said an initial inspection showed the fishermen had not yet caught any marine species, saying an inspection showed only dried fish and fishing nets aboard the vessel.

But she said that under Tubbataha law, the entry of foreign fishing vessels with foreign nationals aboard is "prima facie evidence they are engaged in fishing."

Songco said that if the fishermen are found guilty of poaching, they face six to 12 years in jail and a fine of up to US$ 100,000, aside from the forfeiture of their vessel, equipment and catch. The Tubbataha Management Board can also impose an administrative fine of US$ 50,000 to US$ 200,000.