THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has stopped dredging operations on the banks of Aklan River, which were carried out without the required permits.

Some 15 undocumented Chinese nationals inside the boat conducting the dredging operation were also apprehended, said DENR Undersecretary Arturo Valdez.

“None of the Chinese nationals we found on board the ship were able to present their passports, nor they were able to present a mineral ore transport permit for the ship's cargo,” Valdez said.

The 50-ton boat, identified as "MV Zhong Hai 18," was contracted by STL Panay Resources Co. Ltd. (STLPRCL) to dredge shallow parts of Aklan River.

Valdez said the contractor of the dredging project failed to secure permits from the DENR and the multi-sectoral monitoring and validation team created by the Provincial Board of Aklan to ensure the safety of the dredging operations.

Valdez, who is head of the National Anti-Environmental Crime Task Force (NAECTF), said last Tuesday's operation was pursuant to a cease and desist order (CDO) issued by the DENR on January 26 against the dredging project and a directive from DENR Secretary Gina Lopez.

He said Lopez immediately ordered the NAECTF to link up with Aklan DENR officials upon learning of the dredging activities of the vessel through a letter sent to her by Kalibo town Mayor William Lachica.

He noted that around 1,200 cubic meters of sand materials were discovered inside two of the boat's six compartments by the DENR and the multi-sectoral monitoring team during a surprised inspection on January 23.

It was learned that the boat has been anchored off Barangay Bakhaw Norte in Kalibo since November last year.

The DENR said the dredging project, which is an offshoot of the massive flooding caused by Typhoon Frank in 2008, faces strong opposition from residents who are worried that it might result in further erosion of the riverbanks.

Valdez clarified that there was no go signal coming from monitoring team and the DENR to proceed with the project as STLPRCL has yet to comply with the requirements set by the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Part of the requirements was to secure clearances from the monitoring team and concerned local DENR offices.

Combined operatives from the Philippine Army, Philippine Coast Guard and the National Bureau of Investigation joined the DENR in implementing the CDO against the dredging project.

Valdez said the DENR has already coordinated with the Bureau of Immigration regarding the Chinese nationals, and the Bureau of Customs for the issuance of hold order against the vessel.

The DENR official said his team does not rule out the possibility that the ship is engaged in black sand mining, noting that the SPRCL has offered the dredging of the river in exchange for buying the materials which will be taken out.

“We are now gathering documents for a case build up,” Valdez said. (SDR/Sunnex)