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Asia Dive News : Chinese turtle poachers apprehended in Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia – Malaysian authorities have seized several Chinese fishing boats off the northern coast of Borneo carrying cargoes of endangered marine turtles.

On 26 March, a boat carrying 72 mixed green and hawksbill turtles was apprehended and six people arrested. Three days later poachers were caught red-handed with a larger cargo of 220 green and hawksbill turtles.

All species of marine turtles found in the waters of Malaysia's Sabah Province are protected under the Fisheries Act and the Wildlife Enactment laws. Violations of the Wildlife Enactment carry a penalty up to MYR50,000 (US$14,500) and/or five years in jail.

“We commend the success of the Sabah Marine Police and encourage them and other enforcement agencies to continue their efforts,” said Chris Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC South-east Asia.

“We urge the authorities to prosecute these poachers to the full extent of the law. If there is no deterrent, killing of these endangered species will continue unabated.”

WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC South-east Asia are encouraging the authorities to return any surviving turtles from the latest seizures to the wild as soon as possible.

Hawksbill and green turtles are among the five species found in Malaysian waters. Their survival is threatened by habitat loss, fishing activities and international trade.

This is not the first time fishermen from China have been apprehended in the region for poaching marine turtles. In May 2004, marine police arrested 16 fishermen from Hainan after discovering about 160 dead turtles aboard a trawler. In 2005, more than 100 turtles were seized from another Hainan trawler which encroached into Malaysian waters off Labuan.

In response to the rising number of such cases, authorities from the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) launched a wildlife enforcement network to improve domestic and cross-border efforts to stop illegal wildlife trade.

WWF-Malaysia hopes the governments of Indonesian, Malaysia, and the Philippines will address this issue of foreign fleets poaching marine turtles during a marine ecoregion meeting this April in Kota Kinabalu, Indonesia.

Source: WWF