ZAMBOANGA CITY: Port authorities here are holding 11 Bangladeshi and four Chinese sailors, including dozens of Filipinos, caught smuggling more than 27,000 bags of rice loaded on a cargo vessel at sea off Zamboanga Sibugay.
Rear Admiral Rene Medina, Philippine Navy commander in the region, said cargo ship Diamond 8 was carrying about P68 million worth of rice when intercepted late on Saturday off Olutanga town.
Two smaller boats – Yssa Maine and Yousra – that were hauling the bags of rice managed to escape and were being tracked down by the Navy.
Authorities identified the ship’s captain as Lin Yang Yin, who failed to show legal documents for the contraband.
Medina said in the ship were about 34 undocumented Filipinos, some of them minors, and 17 others whose identities remain unknown. He said they already informed the Bureau of Customs, Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Immigration, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Department of Social Welfare and Development about the arrested suspects.
He said they radioed the ship after it was spotted off Olutanga, but did not respond, forcing the Navy to send patrol ships for fear that the vessel was under attack or was being harassed by pirates. But soldiers were shocked to discover that the ship was loaded with 1,359 tons of rice in 27,000 bags so they immediately seized the vessel.
The ship was brought on Sunday afternoon to the headquarters of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao in Zamboanga City where authorities are investigating the arrested crew and passengers.
“The successful foiling of the illegal transport of tons of smuggled rice is the result of an intensified and focused maritime patrol by the Philippine Navy. With this, the Philippine Navy through the Naval Forces Western
Mindanao will continue monitoring and patrolling the area to deter any unlawful activities in its area of operation for a secured maritime environment,” Medina said.
It was not immediately known where the rice came from or who is its consignee in the province. Most of the smuggled rice now flooding the market in the region have come from Malaysia.