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Theft of 'More than a Hectare of Coral Reefs' Uncovered in the Philippines

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CEBU CITY, The Philippines -- The Bureau of Customs (BoC) on Tuesday discovered a 20-foot container van containing rare semi-precious corals at a domestic shipping yard, reports said yesterday.

"It is very difficult to set a dollar value on the shipment because it is not for sale in the open market," Cebu Customs District Collector Ricardo Belmonte said.

He said the value could only be determined from the loss fishermen and marine sanctuaries would incur because of the harvest of 20,000 kilograms or 20 tons of corals.

Belmonte said the shipment came from Zamboanga and had no consignee, which was the "main reason that it took us some time before we could open it."

He said the shipment arrived on Jan. 3 but was opened only Thursday morning because they have to observe the proper process when opening unclaimed container vans.

"We need the importers or the owners to be present and give them some time to claim the van, after which a team, of investigators and concerned government agencies will come in," Belmonte said.

He said the BoC usually covers international ports, but decided to act on domestic shipments as it was the customs police that found out about the shipment.

Lou Arciaga, information officer of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), said 20 tons of corals is equivalent to "more than a hectare of coral reefs."

"The corals are the habitat of the fishes so we will know the economic value of the shipment by estimating the loss of fish in a year. About 20 to 30 tons of fish would not return to the area where the corals were harvested," she said.

Numeriano Candado, head of the Fisheries Resources Management and Development (FRMD) section of BFAR, said the corals — known for its slow growth — are not common in the Central Visayas region and can only be found in shallow waters.

"There are more than 100 sacks inside the container van. These are used to make earrings and necklaces," he said.

"We will forfeit the goods in favor of the government," said Belmonte, who added that the "banned articles" will be turned over to BFAR personnel who are responsible for protecting our seas and marine resources.

According to Arciaga, harvesting corals is prohibited under Section 91 of the fisheries code. (PNA)

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