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Philippines' Tuna Company Warns Against Stolen Scuba Tanks Containing Carbon Monoxide; 'Silent Killers'

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MANILA, The Philippines -- A tuna processing company has allegedly lost recently to thieves 25 scuba diving tanks containing carbon monoxide, a highly toxic gas, an owner of a diving equipment shop said last week.

British national Christopher Dearne, proprietor of the Tuna City Scuba Center, said a co-owner of Frescomar Seahelm Corp., Rock Garay, approached him to warn against buying the stolen scuba tanks.

"He asked me to report to him if somebody is selling scuba tanks at low price that could be their lost property. He even left pictures of some tanks with serial numbers," said Dearne, showing the photocopied pictures of some of the tanks.

Dearne said he was concerned that the scuba diving tanks would be bought by divers so he decided to make the incident public.

"These stolen tanks are silent killers when inhaled (as they contain traces of carbon monoxide). These should not fall in the hands of divers," he stressed.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, highly toxic gas that may be produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon.

Dearn said a brand new scuba diving tank is worth P11,000 and P3,000 for second hand.

Frescomar Seahelm is a medium enterprise that has been recognized by the local government unit for its smoked tuna product venture.

In an earlier interview, Garay confirmed that his firm treated tuna and other marine products with filtered tasteless wood smoke that contains carbon monoxide.

Frescomar's smoked tuna products are then frozen and shipped mainly to the markets in the United States.

The United States Food and Drug Administration regarded the process as safe, although Japan and the European Union have banned smoked tuna products from entering their territory.

The purpose of the smoking process is to lengthen the tuna product's shelf-life, retain the product's fresh-like flavor and maintain the bright red color of raw meat.

Because of the smoke process, tuna, which was once a seasonal delicacy especially the sashimi, has become available all the year round.

Even if tuna has undergone the smoke process it is still rich in Omega-3 fatty acid, which prevents clotting of blood and reduces the risk of heart disease, industry players said.

In Japan, the ban on frozen filtered smoked tuna started when the Japan Kouseisho (Department of Health and Welfare) implemented restrictions on the importation, production and sale of frozen smoked tuna, hamachi (yellowtail) and tilapia in 1997 due to health reasons.

According to the Kouseisho, frozen smoked tuna products contain carbon monoxide that allegedly prevents color-deterioration in red meat fish species, leading consumers to err on their perception of the freshness of fish meat.

The local frozen filtered smoked tuna sector here is a vital component of the tuna industry, having an annual export value of at least $50 million and provides employment to about 80,000 workers, processors and fishermen nationwide, industry records show.

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