A Chinese fishing vessel ran aground at the Tubbataha Reef on Monday night, just days after a US Navy ship was removed from the protected marine biodiversity area, authorities said Tuesday.

The fishing boat ran aground at the southern portion of the reef’s North Islet around 11:45 p.m., Navy spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said, citing a report from Tubbataha Reef park superintendent Angelique Songco.

The boat, which bears the number 63168, has 12 crew members on board, Arevalo said.

Lt. Cmdr. Armand Balilo, Coast Guard spokesman, said one of their search and rescue vessels was sent to the scene to help park rangers investigate.

The BRP Romblon (SARV 3503) arrived at the site around 10:55 a.m. Tuesday and confirmed the grounding of the 20-meter long boat, he said.

“Ang plano is kapag nag-refloat yung fishing boat due to high tide, eescortan ito dun sa Puerto Princesa City then dadalhin ‘yung crew sa National Committee on Illegal Entrants. Kung poachers sila, kakasuhan,” Balilo said in a phone interview.

Should the fishing boat fail to refloat, its crew members will be taken to Puerto Princesa on board the BRP Romblon, he said.

The grounding occurred just 10 days after authorities finished removing the USS Guardian’s wreckage at the reef’s South Atoll on March 30.

The Guardian, which ran aground on Jan. 17 after making a port call in Subic Bay, Zambales, damaged 2,345.67 square meters of coral, according to the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO).

The US government will be fined $1.5 million, or P58.4 million, for the Guardian’s grounding, the TMO said. (John Roson)

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