PPA officials ‘illegally’ releases 2 detained Malaysian vessels

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/08 July) — The municipal government of Glan in Sarangani Province is set to file charges against officials and personnel of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) here for allegedly “releasing illegally” a detained Malaysian tugboat and barge from the town’s port last month.

Glan Mayor Victor James Yap said their investigation showed that the PPA here released and allowed tugboat TB Oceania 1 and barge Oceania 2 to leave the port three weeks ago despite the pending cases filed by the local government against their owner and crew.

He said the release of the two foreign vessels appeared to have been made in haste and no proper notifications were earlier issued by the PPA to concerned government agencies regarding the matter.

The local government earlier launched an investigation into the “mysterious” disappearance last June 15 of the foreign tugboat and barge, which were held under administrative custody at the Glan port since June last year due to the environment and fishery pollution case and the damage claim filed last year by the local government against their owners and 11 foreign crew members.

The charges stemmed from the alleged dumping of coal wastes by the two foreign vessels, around 300 meters off the coasts of Barangay Kapatan in Glan on May 26, 2012.

TB Oceania 1 and DB Oceania 2, which were owned by Woodman Miri Sarawak of Malaysia, reportedly docked in Kapatan and allegedly flushed coal debris the area, which is part of the 215,000-hectare Sarangani Bay Protected Seascape.

The dumping of the coal wastes was documented by a provincial government employee, who showed local authorities several photographs showing the tugboat and barge releasing dark-colored wastes into the sea.

Citing separate reports submitted by the PPA, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID), Yap said it turned out that the PPA ordered the release of the tugboat and barge.

He said the PPA released the foreign vessels after securing a payment of P1,350,815.30 for docking and other fees.

The mayor said PPA officials claimed that they were not aware that the vessels were under detention and they supposedly don’t know that their owners and crew have pending cases filed by the local government.

“(But) how can we believe that they don’t know anything about the pending cases. Almost everybody here in Glan is aware that we have detained foreign vessels at the port so how come the PPA doesn’t know that?” he said.

Yap said the BID confirmed that the passports of the vessels’ 11 foreign crew members are still held by the agency.

“According to the PCG, the tugboat and barge have already returned to Malaysia,” he said.

Yap said the local government’s lawyers are now preparing to file charges before the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao against the involved PPA officials.

PPA officials here are not immediately available to comment on the matter.

The mayor is also planning to meet with Department of Transportation and Communication Secretary Joseph Abaya this week to discuss the matter, especially the pending cases against the foreign vessels’ owner and crew. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)