Sunday, April 1, 2007

Trawler Seized with 220 Rare Turtles

Malaysian marine police have seized a trawler carrying about 220 rare sea turtles and arrested 17 Chinese men for poaching, their second such seizure this week, a police chief said Thursday.

In the two seizures, both involving chases through Malaysian waters, almost 300 turtles were recovered. Most were dead, caught for use in making Chinese medicines. Their shells and skins are also used to make fashion accessories.

"We chased them for about half an hour," said Assistant Commissioner Mohd Sueb, head of marine police for Sabah state, referring to the second seizure Wednesday.

"They refused to stop their engine so we were alongside and we jumped over and managed to stop the engine."

Armed police, acting on tip-offs, intercepted both trawlers in waters off Sabah, Borneo island, Mohd Sueb said by phone. The turtles were mostly green turtles and hawksbills, both listed as endangered by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union.

Only 20 of the roughly 220 seized Wednesday were still alive, Mohd Sueb said. Of the 78 turtles recovered in the first seizure Monday, only five were alive, a local newspaper said. All the turtles were handed over to Malaysia's fisheries department.

Nineteen men were arrested in Monday's seizure.

Under Malaysia's fisheries law, the skippers of the trawlers face a maximum fine of 1 million ringgit ($289,000) and the crew could each be fined up to 100,000 ringgit.

Asked if police suspected any more turtle poachers were still trawling waters off Sabah, Mohd Sueb said: "So far, no news. It depends on the intelligence that we get."

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