‘JUST SAY SORRY’

Japanese diver says he saw submarine ‘crash’ coral wall; local divers confirm reef damage

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He didn’t imagine it.

The Japanese diver who took the video of a yellow tourist submarine cruising by a wall of live corals in Mactan surfaced yesterday, saying he witnessed the sea craft “hitting the wall” in the Kontiki Drop last April 18.

“I was just taking the video as usual. I did not expect it would happen. That time I saw the submarine hitting the wall … and I said ‘this is not good’,” Satoshi Toyoda told reporters in barangay Marigondon in Mactan.

Toyoda, a technical diver, is a frequent visitor in Cebu, and  travels several times a year from Japan, where he has a scuba diving business.

A day after Korean tour operators denied any “crash” took place underwater, a team of divers representing the Lapu-Lapu city government yesterday inspected the site 20 meters below sea level, guided by Toyoda’s description.

They found fresh, broken pieces of coral and other debris, which  Andy Berame, head of Taskforce Kalikasan, said must have been caused by contact with a “rigid force”.  (See story on page 2).

Toyoda’s video titled “Coral Crusher” went viral after he posted it in his YouTube account on April 26, a reaction which took him by surprise.

He said he just wanted to share a personal video with friends, and had no intention of stopping the business operation of the tourist submarine.

Toyoda said he’s due to fly back to Japan next week but that if needed, he is willing to testify about what he saw underwater.

“The video is everything,” he said.

“They just have to say say sorry and let them do their training again. Never destroy nature.”

Toyoda was brought to the jump off point of yesterday’s dive by the Lapu-Lapu city mayor’s public relations consultant Jonji Gonzales.

FAVORITE SPOT

Kontiki Drop is one of the most popular dive spots in Lapu-Lapu city where it is home to many species of fish and corals – black corals, red fan corals, frog fish, longnose hawk fish, periclemens, pygmy seahorse among others.

“It is one of the favorite spots of divers and is protected by divers who practice self-regulation,” said Berame, referring to buoys marking out the area to prevent boats from dropping anchors that could destroy the corals below.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza suspended the business permit of the Cebu Yellow Submarine and Undersea Tour Corp. on Monday and issued a cease-and-desist order pending an inquiry of the mishap.

A similar inquiry was called by the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) whose temporary permit for the tour submarine expired a few days ago.

Korean company officials, in a press conference, insisted the video was misleading and that no crash took place.  They said the “cloud of dust” seen near the reef wall was actually a result of propeller motions of the submarine and that the “crashing” sound was actually air released by six tanks used to control buoyancy when the submarine had to turn and go deeper to cruise under the “cliff overhang”.

Toyoda yesterday showed his complete video of the “crash” which lasted  3 minutes and 54 seconds. (What appeared in YouTube was a shorter version of about one minute due to data limits of the website.) He took the footage using his compact Go Pro underwater camera.

Toyoda recalled that he was diving along the Kontiki Drop around 10:30 a.m. when he saw the yellow submarine approach a curved wall of corals, near where he was floating.

Recalling his happy experience with his father riding a similar tourist submarine in Hawaii years ago, he said he aimed his camera at the passing Cebu Submarine but was soon  taken aback by what he saw.

“Underwater it was so noisy. But you can hear my voice (in the video)  saying, ooooh….when it hit the wall. I was surprised,” Toyoda told reporters.  The sound of the submarine’s engine is clear in the audio-video recording.

Roderico Tagaan, community environment and natural resources officer (Cenro) of Lapu-Lapu city, said they called the attention of operators of the Cebu Yellow Submarine even before the video was posted online, after receiving several verbal complaints.

He said some divers would go to their office and report instances of abuse of marine resources but didn’t have photos or videos at the time that would pinpoint the submarine.

“We have been calling their attention before but they denied any wrongdoing because they would say their submarine is more expensive than the corals. But now we have an actual video,” Tagaan said.

DAMAGED CORALS

The dive team that made an inventory of the site in Kontiki Drop confirmed signs of recent damage.

“Portions of the coral mounds that were actually destroyed. The impact was not caused by a mere kick of a diver. It looks like it was hit by a big rigid object. Aside from the coral mounds there are plate corals that were destroyed,” said Berame.

He said white portions in the cracks of the corals showed “fresh” cuts that meant the incident happened recently, Berame said.

He said they would make an inventory of coral species that were damaged and submit a report to the mayor for proper action.

“There is no overhang there. It is purely a reef wall,” Berame said, contradicting the account of the management of Cebu Yellow Submarine and Undersea Tour Corp. that its submarine was trying to maneuver around an “overhang”.

Tayoda, meanwhile,  said he had no intention of stopping  the operation of Cebu Yellow Submarine.

“Actually this one (video) is not for everybody. I just wanted my friends to look at it on Facebook until one day I was so surprised there were so many people watching this video. That is when I realized the impact of the video,” Tayoda said.

Tayoda recalled his  April 18 dive where he was floating about three meters above the submarine.

“For a moment I was looking at my feet that is why the camera was focused on the front of the submarine when its rear hit the reef. I then saw it (front of the submarine) hitting the (curved) wall,” Tayoda narrated.

“This video is not fake. I have nothing against this kind of tourism business here. I had a good experience with the submarine before my father died. I brought him to Hawaii and they (the operators) were so professional, it was fantastic. I have nothing against them.”

“I believe that the driver (ship captain) should be more careful. And also the people from other country must respect the nature, people and the country. We should follow the regulation, laws, procedures. Just abide. If we do this we all grow. I don’t think it should stop. They just have to say say sorry and let them do their training again. Never destroy nature,” Tayoda said.

Tayoda travels at least seven times a year to Cebu, where he  is a business partner in the Kontiki Dive shop in Mactan.

“When I came here 15 years ago, I saw this place is so beautiful. The people are very kind. I love this country. That is why I joined the Kontiki Divers and continue to join them until now.”

In Tuesday’s press conference, Agnes Escaño, spokesperson of Cebu Yellow Submarine said the ship captain is a Filipino ship captain with a license for a floating vessel and is supervised by a Korean expert.

Woo Je Kim, the Korean submarine captain, said they monitor the depth of the submarine using a sonar and maneuver the vessel with a small joy stick.

The tour submarine is a first of its kind in the Philippines, and was launched during the Easter holiday in April at the Imperial Palace Water Resort and Spa.

Some confusion is still being sorted out over who is the regulatory agency in charge of its operations.

“We have said everything we had to say,”said general manager Kim Jun of the Cebu Yellow Submarine company in Tuesday’s press conference.

“Until an investigation by a third party is established we will no longer comment on the matter. Once again we give our assurance that we will stay in line with government policies and we thank the public for its vigilance,” he said.

No Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) was obtained for the enterprise, but it has temporary permits from the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) and the Coast Guard.

The protection and management of coral reefs is primarily the responsibility of the local government units, said Eddie Llamedo, public information officer of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7.

“The LGUs can control activities occurring within their municipal waters and such are able to regulate resources use based on the local ordinance. Corals usually are located near shore within the statutory limits of municipalities (less than 15 km from the coastline),” Llamedo said.

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