MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Chinese fishing boat found carrying thousands of kilos (pounds) of scaly anteater meat has been removed from a Philippine marine sanctuary where it run aground last week, a coast guard spokesman said Saturday.
The F/V Min Long Yu was towed Saturday to the Palawan provincial capital of Puerto Princesa southwest of Manila, a day after it was extricated from the Tubbataha National Marine Park, Lt. Cmdr. Armand Balilo said.
The boat's 12 Chinese crewmen have been in custody since they struck the UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site on April 8 and charged with poaching.
Balilo said the boat will be held in custody by the coast guard and will be checked again for any hidden compartments.
Authorities found no fish or any contraband on board during an initial inspection when they boarded the boat for the first time a day after it struck the reef.
During closer inspection days later, coast guard officers discovered 400 boxes, each containing 25-30 kilograms (55-66 pounds) of frozen pangolins, or scaly anteaters, with their scales already removed.
Wildlife officials are still trying to determine which of the four Asian pangolin species the meat comes from. The International Union of Conservation of Nature lists two as endangered: the Sunda, or Malayan, pangolin, and the Chinese pangolin. Two others, including the Philippine pangolin endemic to Palawan, are classified as near threatened.
The animals are protected in many Asian nations. Despite an international trade ban in effect since 2002, trade continues illicitly. The meat and scales of the pangolin are believed to cure various ailments.
Balilo said the Tubbataha Management Office, which oversees the marine park, will examine the extent of reef damage to determine the amount of fines to be imposed on the Chinese boat owners.
The U.S. minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground in another part of Tubbataha on Jan. 17 and was removed March 30 after being dismantled and lifted piece by piece by a crane to prevent more damage to the reef.
The agency in charge of the marine park has said it will impose a $1.4 million fine on the U.S. Navy after the wooden-hulled Guardian damaged about 2,300 square meters (24,757 square feet) of corals.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet has relieved the commanding officer, the executive officer and navigator, the assistant navigator and the officer of the deck of the Guardian after initial findings indicated they had failed to adhere to standard navigation procedures at the time of the grounding.