ZAMBOANGA CITY – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) intercepted Friday two cargo containers from Tawi-Tawi containing cut-up bodies and fins of sharks in the Port of Zamboanga.
The PCG received intelligence information that endangered species of sharks were transported on commercial boat MV Kerstin from Tawi-Tawi, bound for Zamboanga City, said Lieutenant Junior Grade Jimmy Berbo, commander of the Zamboanga PCG.
According to Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Western Mindanao officer Divina Ignacio, a whale shark, locally known as "butanding", was among the butchered sharks. This was clear from the white markings on the carcass, she said.
The sharks were most likely earmarked for use as food, Ignacio said, as sharks' fins and tails are considered delicacies in some Asian countries. They were probably supposed to be exported and sold to restaurants abroad.
Ignacio said BFAR will examine the rest of the butchered sharks’ carcasses to ascertain their specific species and status.
The PCG questioned a man who tried to claim the illegal cargo. Ben Gumbahali denied being the owner of the containers, and said he was only asked by a certain Abdu Ibno to claim them.
He also denied any knowledge of the containers' contents.
Berbo said that Gumbahali failed to present a transport permit from BFAR Tawi-Tawi, which is part of the requirements for transporting marine animals.
Other cargo containers that Gunbahali was supposed to claim would also be confiscated if they contained unregulated species of fish, Berbo said.
Whale sharks, an endangered species, are protected under Republic Act 10654, also known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.
Under the law, it is unlawful for anyone to catch, transport, export, and sell any endangered marine species as identified by the government. Anyone caught violating the law can be fined P500,000 to P5 million, or face imprisonment from 12 to 20 years.