MANILA - The Philippine provincial government having jurisdiction over the Sibuyan Sea where the wreckage of World War II-era Japanese battleship Musashi was discovered this week by a private exploration team was not aware of the search effort, its top official said Friday.
Romblon Gov. Eduardo Firmalo said that while his province welcomes the recent discovery of the Musashi by U.S. billionaire Paul Allen and his team, he pointed out that the provincial government was not informed of the presence of Allen's yacht, M/Y Octopus, and his team in the Sibuyan Sea.
"Claiming that they have been searching for Musashi for more than eight years, there has been no information shared nor coordination with the local authorities," Firmalo said in a statement.
"We have known that even the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy were also unaware about the exploration conducted," he added.
A Coast Guard officer in the area told Kyodo News that foreign-owned vessels need clearance from the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, the Customs Bureau, as well as the Immigration Bureau for its crew if they enter Philippine waters. The Coast Guard must also be notified about the entry.
Any exploration activity, meanwhile, also requires a permit from the National Museum, which can only be granted to Philippine-based entities.
Allen's camp has yet to issue a statement about the matter.
A press statement posted Wednesday on Allen's official website said that his team of researchers set out to conduct the final phase of their search last month, utilizing a BlueFin-12 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. The device detected the wreckage of the Musashi on its third dive, and confirmed it later on Monday using a remote operated vehicle equipped with a high-definition camera.
Without specifying the coordinates of the location, Allen said the Musashi was settled at a depth of around 1,000 meters.
As the National Museum of the Philippines commenced efforts to verify the claim, it stressed that "any further activity pertaining" to the shipwreck "shall be governed by established rules and regulations."
"The wreck site of Musashi is considered under Philippine law as an archaeological site," the museum said in a statement Friday.
Assuming the presence of human remains in the wreckage, the museum said its own protocols would also be applied. More than 1,000 Japanese soldiers aboard the ship perished after it was attacked and eventually sunk by U.S. forces on Oct. 24, 1944.
The museum said it had already contacted representatives of Allen and coordinated with the Foreign Affairs Department, Japanese authorities, the Romblon provincial government and the Philippine Coast Guard following the announcement of the wreck's discovery.
"The National Museum is now giving priority to verifying the discovery, obtaining and sharing key information, facilitating the protection and preservation of the site, and formulating appropriate next steps," it said.
Firmalo disclosed that over the years, the province has given significance to the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, during which the Musashi was sunk by torpedoes and bombs of the U.S. forces, and said that the government had actually declared Oct. 24 as "Battle of Sibuyan Sea Day."
"For years, the province of Romblon, in collaboration with civic organizations and local government units in Tablas and Sibuyan Islands, has been commemorating this event to promote peace, unity and prosperity among Americans, Japanese and Filipinos in remembrance of the fallen soldiers and civilians during the war," he said.
"And there have been initiatives of the private sector, local and national governments to preserve the historical integrity and significance of the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea for all concerned to embrace reconciliation and peace through historical tourism, cultural exchange and international cooperation," he added.
The Musashi, said to be one of the largest battleships in naval history, was sent to participate in the Battle of Leyte to defend Japan's hold on the Philippines against the U.S.-led Allied Forces. Its arrival was detected by American forces, who promptly launched an attack while it was still in the Sibuyan Sea.