4:12 am | Monday, April 15th, 2013
MANILA, Philippines—The Chinese crew of a fishing boat that ran aground on Tubbataha Reef last week could have been checking to see if the Americans had installed “military equipment” in the protected marine sanctuary where a US Navy minesweeper got stuck on an atoll nearly three months ago, a Philippine military officer said Sunday.
The officer, who asked not to be named for lack of authority to talk to the media, said it was possible the 12 Chinese nationals on board the Ming Long Yu were “Chinese soldiers who were sent on a mission.”
“This is just one of several possibilities the Philippine government should look into. The Chinese boat could have been part of a Chinese military operation,” the officer told the Inquirer.
The source, who was familiar with previous incidents of Chinese military intrusions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), said there were several indications the 48-meter-long Ming Long Yu was “not a fishing boat.”
“As has been noted, the Chinese boat was not like the fishing vessels used by Chinese poachers who were arrested in Palawan. It was not carrying ice to preserve their catch. It did not have refrigerated storage,” he said. It was also noted that the men had “flawless” complexions, not the dark leathered skin of fishermen.
He said there was “speculation” the Chinese military sent the 12 “fishermen” to conduct an inspection of the area where the USS Guardian ran aground on Jan. 17 and remained stranded for two and a half months. The last piece of the US Navy vessel was finally removed just over a week before the Ming Long Yu hit an atoll in another part of Tubbataha on April 8.
“The Chinese might have been checking to see if the Guardian had been really removed from the reef. Maybe they suspected the Americans had installed some military equipment there,” he said.
Meanwhile, some 400 boxes containing an undisclosed number of anteaters were found in one of the cargo holds of the Ming Long Yu.
This was disclosed Sunay by Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, spokesman of the Philippine Coast Guard, citing a report from a PCG team investigating the vessel’s grounding.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Balilo said the boxes weighed 25 to 30 kilos each.
Coast Guard personnel at the reef also reported that they failed in their initial attempt to refloat the Chinese vessel.
“The PCG team has asked for a tugboat to assist them in the boat extraction operation,” Balilo said.
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