ZAMBOANGA CITY — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) intercepted a cargo vessel loaded with an estimated PHP50 million worth of smuggled rice off the province of Sulu, an official said Saturday.
Lt. Commander Noriel Ramos, Zamboanga Coast Guard Station commander, said the vessel, M/V Hulk, was spotted by the PCG’s BRP-Cape San Agustin (MRRV-4408) around 8 a.m. Thursday while anchored around 600 yards south of Buland Island, Sulu.
Ramos said they discovered the cargo vessel while they were conducting maritime patrol to verify intelligence reports that a boat loaded with rice was seen sailing along the sea area of Tongkil, Sulu.
Ramos said that Lt. Commander Jeffrey Collado, BRP-Cape San Agustin commanding officer, immediately sent a boarding team and Special Operations Unit “on board a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat to conduct high-risk board and search” on the cargo vessel, which came from Cagayan de Oro City.
“It was discovered that the ship is loaded with more or less 50,000 bags of rice (of 25 kilograms each) without any import permit or pertinent document covering the shipment,” Ramos said.
He said the board and search team were surprised to learn from the crew of M/V Hulk that the shipmaster and the officers had already fled the ship through a motorboat and headed towards a nearby island.
He said the Coast Guard District South Western Mindanao command deployed another ship, the BRP-Bagacay (MRRV-4410) led by Commander Joel Simoag, to augment the security in Tongkil, Sulu.
He said the seized cargo ship was operated by PCG “specialized personnel” and sailed to this city around 7:50 a.m. Friday based on the recommendation of Simoag, noting that “there are no other best alternative since the shipmaster and officers of M/V Hulk abandoned their vessel.”
He added that they arrived and docked at a private wharf in this city around 3:50 a.m. Saturday, where M/V Hulk is presently secured by MRRV-4408 and MRRV-4410 waiting for inspection by the Bureau of Customs. (PNA)