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Lapu-Lapu to fete Japanese diver 5/3/2013

City government awaiting Korean tour operator’s reply to CDO

The Lapu-Lapu City government is planning to fete the Japanese diver who took a video of the yellow submarine incident in recognition of his vigilance and concern for the marine environment.

“Because of his vigilance we are able to acquire proof that led me to issue a cease and desist order against the operations of the Cebu yellow submarine,” Mayor Paz Radaza said yesterday.

Satoshi Toyoda's video titled “Coral Crusher” went viral on the video sharing site YouTube after it was uploaded on April 26. The over a minute footage showed the tour submarine crashing into a coral reef wall in Kontiki Drop off the waters of Mactan.

As the video spread, the Lapu-Lapu City government immediately issued a cease-and-desist order against its tour operator, Cebu Yellow Submarine and Undersea Tours Corp., and at the same time suspended its business permit.

On Tuesday, the company denied the incident and claimed that the “cloud of dust” seen on the video after the impact was caused by the watercraft's propellers.

The next day. The 51-year-old Japanese diver surfaced and showed reporters the uncut version of the video.

“The video is everything,” said Toyoda who expressed willingness to testify about what he saw underwater should a full-blown investigation on the incident be called.

Mayor Radaza said prior to the incident, her office have been receiving reports about the submaring hitting the corals during its sea trial.

“Our CENRO and City Legal Office have called their attention to such reports. Unfortunately, at that time we did not have actual proof that their submarine hitting our corals,” she said.

The mayor said they will wait for the response of the tour operator on the cease and desist order before taking further action. “We still have to wait for their reply, let’s see…before we make our next moves,” Radaza said.

The mayor thanked the community of divers in Kontiki for staying vigilant in protecting the marine environment

“Our city’s tourism assets must be protected at all cost, we can never allow any destructive type of tourism lest we might wake up one day with no more tourists visiting us because our environment is already destroyed.” Radaza said.

She clarified that the city government's action is not meant to discourage investors in novel tourism initiatives.

Radaza said she welcomes investors on tourism as long as they follow local and national laws on environmental protection.

“There is much room for new tourism products, I will not hesitate to support it, but I never waver in my stand to swiftly use the powers of my office to preserve and protect our natural assets and our underwaterworld against those who just want to earn a profit without caring for the environment,” she said.

The mayor said the city government is now studying measures that could be adopted to further protect the marine environment.

Radaza said they are also studying the idea of adopting the scheme used in computing the damage made on the Tubattaha Reef when a US Navy warship ran aground on the protected area early this year.

The regional coast guard commander yesterday recommended that an inter-agency panel be tasked to monitor underwater activities to prevent the “yellow submarine” incident from happening again.

Capt Weniel Azcuna, commander of the Philippine Coast Guard Cebu Station, said that while they are the agency mandated to perform marine environment protection, they have certain limitations when it comes to undersea operations.

“We are recommending to maritime administration that other agencies should be involved including Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) because this is a peculiar vessel (in the Philippines),” Azcuna told Cebu Daily News.

He said the coast guard can only monitor whether a submersible vessel is following its designate route, but it doesn't have the capability to monitor what it is doing underwater.

“In the coast guard, we treat (a submarine) this just like floating vessel. PCG only looks at the checklist in clearing the vessel before they depart (from the docking area) and make sure their vessel is properly maintained,” Azcuna said.

He said the coast guard also makes sure that the number of passengers on board do not exceed its rated capacity, whether they follow rules and regulations as to where they should operate, the number of dives per day and make sure they don’t operate if the weather condition is bad. /Fe Marie Dumaboc and Norman Mendoza, Correspondents with senior reporter Marian Codilla

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