Palawan News file photo

The Western Command (WESCOM) said this week that they have continued to deal with fishermen trying to come close to the exclusion zone of the Malampaya platform to fish.

For the last six months alone, the Joint Task Force Malampaya (JTFM) escorted out of the area some 106 fishing boats from entering the natural gas project’s safety and exclusion zones.

In a regular Monday media briefing at the Western Command (WESCOM), JTFM deputy commander Capt. Arnel Teodoro said the figure comprised fishing vessels “escorted away” from the first week of January to June 2019 from the Malampaya Natural Gas Project (MNGP) platform and some areas of the 504-kilometer pipeline.

“They are fishing vessels, we just escorted them away from the exclusion zone which is five nautical miles radius from the platform,” he said.

The ban on the flying of aircraft below an altitude of 500 meters within one kilometer of the platform and entry of vessels within 500 meters on either side of the pipeline are contained in Executive Order No. 72 signed in July 2001 by then president Gloria Macapal-Arroyo.

The EO established safety and exclusion zones for natural gas wells offshore, flowlines, platform, pipelines, loading buoy, and other related facilities for the MNGP over certain waters and submerged lands near Batangas, Mindoro, and Palawan.

Teodoro said the fishermen they have led away from the MNGP did not make any resistance since they were able to explain the JTFM’s task to keep the vital structure safe and secured.

He also explained that most of the crew of the fishing vessels did not intend to breach the safety and exclusion zones, however, when caught at sea by bad weather, they are forced to find a location where they can take temporary shelter.

WESCOM commander Vice Admiral Rene Medina said that to date, the Malampaya task force has already conducted around 185 maritime and 19 air patrols in the location of the natural gas project platform and the pipeline.

Medina said they could not blame the fishing vessels from entering the prohibited zones due also to lack of information since most of them are not from Palawan.

“We could not blame these fishermen because many of them are not from Palawan. Kulang din sila sa kaalaman talaga, hindi rin talaga nila alam. ‘Yong iba naman siguro curious lang talaga, lumalapit at gustong makita ano ba itong structure na ito,” he said.

Teodoro said there are several prohibited acts where the natural gas project site is concerned.

For the exclusion zone prohibited acts are, vessel entry, dumping or use of explosives, flying of aircraft (below 500 meters within one kilometer radius), subsea activities, and all others that may pose potential risks to the project.

For the safety zone it is not allowed to have trawl fishing, anchoring “payao”, use or dumping of explosives, subsea work, drilling, construction, installation of sub-marine pipelines/cables and all other activities that may also jeopardize the joint venture project.

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Jayra Joyce Cañete Taboada handles the law and order and the science and education beats. She is also a licensed professional teacher.