Chinese vessel carrying turtles seized in Palawan

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

MANILA (2nd Update) -- The Philippine National Police (PNP) Maritime Group reported the seizure of two vessels, including a Chinese vessel loaded with close to 500 turtles in the disputed South China Sea or the Half Moon Shoal in Palawan.

China's Xinhua News Agency reported that Chinese authorities lost contact with 11 fishermen allegedly taken away by armed men in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

It said the fishermen were on the vessel Qiongqionghai 09063 when it was intercepted by armed men who fired warning shots in the air on Tuesday morning near Half Moon Shoal not far from the Philippines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a statement on Wednesday, confirmed that the Chinese fishing boat reported missing by Chinese authorities is the same boat apprehended by police authorities carrying large numbers of endangered species off Palawan province.

The DFA said the seizure of the boat and arrest of its crew by the PNP Maritime Group Special Boat Unit were undertaken as "actions to enforce maritime laws and to uphold Philippine sovereign rights over its EEZ (exclusive economic zone)."

The department assured that concerned authorities in Palawan will address the case in a "just, humane and expeditious manner."

China, through Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, has demanded the immediate release of the detained fishermen and the boat, as it warned the Philippines to "take no more provocative action."

The shoal, called Hasa Hasa in the Philippines, is claimed by China as part of the Nansha island chain, known internationally as the Spratly Islands. The Spratlys are a major cluster of potentially oil- and gas-rich islands and reefs long disputed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

It is within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone and near to Second Thomas Shoal, where a small Philippine military detachment is based.

China lays claim to virtually the entire South China Sea and is locked in an increasingly heated dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam and others over rights to energy resources, fishing grounds and island outposts.

Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, PNP information chief, said a Maritime Police Patrol apprehended the two vessels around 7 a.m. Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal.

Sindac said one of the captured vessels is a local boat with five Muslim passengers. Aboard the local boat were Captain Romantic Banto Amlain and four personnel. Some 70 live turtles were in their possession when apprehended.

The other is a Chinese boat with 11 passengers. The Chinese vessel was boarded by Captain Chen Hi Quan with 10 Chinese personnel and carrying 120 live turtles and 234 dead turtles.

Sea turtles are considered endemic and are protected under Philippine laws.

Maritime police are now towing the boats to Puerto Princesa, where appropriate charges will be filed against them.

An official from the Fishing Port Monitoring Center at the port of Tanmen on China's southern island province of Hainan confirmed the Xinhua report. But he said he had no other details and declined to give his name. (Sunnex/SDR/With AP and PNA reports)

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