13 Vietnamese arrested off Palawan for poaching
PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – Thirteen Vietnamese fishermen were arrested for illegal entry into Philippine territory and for poaching, police said Monday, October 21.
The Vietnamese fishermen entered the municipal waters of Balabac, Palawan, near Mangsee Island, and were apprehended by local authorities on Friday, October 18, according to the Philippine National Police's Maritime Group in Palawan.
Upon inspection, the boat revealed a refrigerated holding area with an undetermined number of frozen dead turtles.
"It was found out that the said foreign fishing vessel is loaded with undetermined [number of] pieces of dead sea turtles," said Benigno Caabay, a station officer at the Palawan police provincial headquarters, quoting an official report.
Caabay said fisheries experts were still determining what species of turtles were caught, although he stressed they were all protected under local laws.
Police Inspector Raymond Abella of the PNP Marine Group said the Vietnamese nationals are now in Puerto Princesa City for inquest proceedings at the provincial prosecutor's office.
The suspected poachers are under the custody of the Maritime Group, while the vessel is docked at the PNP Special Boat Unit headquarters in Honda Bay.
Authorities say foreign poaching of endangered or protected species has become a major problem in the waters of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
Sea turtles are protected under Philippine law and catching them is punishable by at least 12 years in jail.
In recent years, Philippine authorities have frequently caught foreigners, often Chinese, catching or buying sea turtles in the waters off Palawan.
In November last year, in the same area where the Vietnamese were caught, the Philippine navy rescued more than 100 sea turtles from poachers. But the fishermen, whom authorities believed to be Chinese, escaped.
Twelve Chinese fishermen were also arrested in April after their boat, which ran aground on a protected reef, was found to be carrying hundreds of dead pangolins, or scaley anteaters, another protected species. Their case is still pending in court.
The issue of foreigners poaching endangered species has become sensitive in the Philippines, with environmentalists calling for stronger action against the perpetrators.
Following pressure from their governments, the foreigners often have the charges dropped or lessened, allowing them to be deported quickly back home.
Turtles are used in traditional medicine or are served as delicacy in many Asian countries. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com