Chinese vessels continue to enter Semirara Island despite lockdown

Environmental advocates expressed their worries as Chinese vessels continue to enter the waters of Semirara Island in despite the on-going lockdown in the province.

Save Antique Movement president Bong Sanchez said three Chinese vessels arrived in Semirara since April 11, even after enhanced quarantine measures were imposed in Antique.

According to Sanchez, one vessel left on April 17 and another on April 20.

“People, including employees of the mining company, are concerned about the presence of Chinese crew members, but they are afraid to speak out for fear of earning the ire of the mining company,” Sanchez told the INQUIRER.

The Semirara Mining and Power Corp. (SMPC), however, said the Chinese vessels’ entry on the Semirara Island complied with the government protocols. The ships’ operations were also coordinated with all concerned government agencies.

“Cargo loading was also done under our strict and relevant guidelines set by the national government and local government units. To limit the risk of transmission, we complied with the stringent regulations of the Bureau of Quarantine, Bureau of Immigration, and Bureau of Customs,” the company said in a statement sent to the Inquirer.

The company also said it did not allow the crew members of the vessel to disembark since February, following the “no disembarkation” policy enforced by Caluya town.

The ships’ personnel involved in operations also complied with the guidelines, including social distancing, wearing masks, and hazardous material suits.

Four employees of the company, however, tested positive for COVID-19.

Antique Representative Loren Legarda was pushing for a “full-blown” investigation on the entry of Chinese vessels and the mining operations in Semirara.

Legarda said exporting coal to China is not crucial during this time of lockdown.

“So why the need for Chinese vessels? This important question begs for an answer. The welfare of my people is paramount,” Legarda said.

Last month, China built new facilities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as the whole country focused on fighting pandemic COVID-19.

China recently launched two research stations on two of its large human-made islands in the West Philippine Sea — Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) and Zamora (Subi) Reef, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported on March 20.