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Majority of poachers caught in Batanes area are Taiwanese — BFAR

The Bureau of Fishing and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on Friday said Taiwanese make up the majority of the poachers caught over the years in the Batanes group of islands, where a Taiwanese fisherman was recently killed in an encounter with Philippine authorities. “Mostly Taiwanese,” BFAR Director Asis Perez told GMA News Online when asked about the nationality of the poachers in the Batanes area. About two to three Taiwanese are caught poaching each year in the Batanes group of islands, northern Philippines, Perez explained. He noted that the poachers are caught carrying a variety of marine species. “Iba-iba, may tuna, sailfish, tanigui,” Perez said, adding that the poachers mostly use the so-called longline commercial fishing technique where baited hooks are attached at intervals to haul in huge amounts of fish. Perez admitted that it was difficult to patrol the vast aquatic territory of the country which consists of over 7,000 islands. He said there are many poaching incidents in the country but only around five to 10 poachers are caught every year within the 200 nautical mile Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The BFAR fines arrested poachers  between $50,000 to $100,000, depending on the offense committed. The fines do not depend on the amount of the haul. Even a single poached fish will merit the same fine as a large haul. Diplomatic row A diplomatic row erupted between the Philippines and Taiwan after Philippine authorities shot and killed 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng in disputed waters on May 9.
The encounter occurred at the Balintang Channel near Batanes in extreme northern Luzon.
BFAR's Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) 3001 tried to apprehend four fishing vessels. According to a joint statement released by the PCG and BFAR on May 10, The MCS 3001 manned by BFAR and PCG personnel encountered four fishing vessels within the Philippine EEZ. Perez said the incident happened 43 nautical miles East of Balintang, south of Batanes which is well within the Philippines' EEZ spanning 200 nautical miles. The statement said BFAR and PCG forces tried to board one of the Taiwanese vessels but one of the ships started to ram the MCS 3001 repeatedly. This forced the crew of the MCS 3001 to start firing warning shots which eventually led to them firing on the machinery portion of the ramming Taiwanese vessel to disable it. The MCS crew then detected unidentified grey and white ships approaching which caused them to withdraw and return to port where they filed the report. The statement said that “MCS 3001 was not able to verify what happened to the fishing vessel.”  
PHL vessel grounded Meanwhile, the BFAR vessel involved in an encounter off disputed waters where a Taiwanese fisherman was killed last May 9 has been grounded while an investigation into the incident is being conducted.
On radio dzBB on Friday, Perez said MCS ship 3001 is now docked at Sangley Point in Cavite.
Perez said the BFAR will let the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) inspect the ship and even access the data from its onboard equipment like the GPS plotter.
Perez explained that the GPS plotter may help investigators plot the location and movements of the BFAR vessel on the day the encounter occurred. In May 2009, BFAR's MCS 3001 had apprehended the Taiwanese fishing boat TZ FU TIEN, with two Taiwanese and 10 Indonesians on board.
Taiwan's counter-claim Meanwhile, a report from Taiwan News belies the claim of the PCG that their fishermen were poaching in the Batanes group of islands.  “The Taiwanese fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 which suffered a fatal attack on May 9 from a Philippine government ship 164 nautical miles southeast of Cape Eluanbi, Taiwan's southernmost point, was found not to have violated fishing rules or poached in the sea area,” the report quoted Taiwan's Pingtung District Prosecutors Office. The report said the fishing vessel of the killed fisherman was operating in the overlapping economic zones of the Taiwan and the Philippines. The report further said the investigation showed that Hung's fishing vessel sustained 45 bullet holes, not 59 as reported earlier. GMA News Online sought the comment from PCG spokesman Armand Balilo but he declined saying that the incident is now under tight investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Meanwhile, the firearms that were in the possession of the Coast Guard and BFAR when the incident happened are already with the NBI for ballistics examination.
At a press conference on Friday, NBI director Nonnatus Rojas said the weapons, which he presented to the media, were eight M16 rifles, six M14 rifles and a Caliber 30 machine gun.
The firearms will all go through ballistic and forensic examinations to identify which ones were fired during the incident.
In a joint statement released by the Coast Guard and BFAR on May 10, the Philippine vessel MCS 3001 spotted four fishing vessels within territory off the Batanes Group of Islands. The crew said when they tried to pursue the intruders, one of the foreign vessels positioned itself to ram them, prompting them to fire a warning shot.
The statement said when the warning shot was ignored, the Philippine authorities fired at the Taiwanese vessel supposedly to disable it, resulting in the death of the fisherman.
De Lima expressed hopes that the Philippines' ongoing investigation on the incident would help "ease the tension between the Philippines and Taiwan."
"Malaking bagay na may resulta... na magkakaroon ng resulta ang imbestigasyon. And makakasama diyan ang magiging recommendation kung mayroong dapat file-an ng kaso," she said.
As far as Taiwan's demand on fishery talks, De Lima said that matter falls within the mandate of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).  
Sanctions Taiwan already demanded for an apology from the Philippine government, compensation for the family of the slain fisherman, impartial investigation on the incident and bilateral talks between the Philippines and Taiwan to avoid similar incidents. The Philippines has already agreed to the latter two and President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has already issued an apology on Wednesday through a personal envoy, Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) Chairman Amadeo Perez. However, Taiwan refused an audience with Perez. MECO representative Antonio Basilio also went to the family of the slain Taiwanese fisherman but this was taken as an “insincere apology” by the Taiwanese government. Taiwan froze the hiring of new Filipino workers on Wednesday and recalled its envoy to Manila. Taiwan likewise slapped additional sanctions including a red travel alert urging Taiwanese not to visit the Philippines and the suspension of exchanges between high-level officials, as well as a halt to exchanges on trade and academic affairs. - VVP, GMA News