Nine Chinese fishermen held in a Philippine jail on the outskirts of Puerto Princesa, capital of the Philippine island province Palawan, took part in a pretrial hearing on Tuesday for turtle-poaching charges they say they “do not recognize”.
According to SCMP:
The nine fishermen from Hainan province face up to 20 years in a Philippine jail for illegally poaching and taking a record number of endangered turtles off the Philippine coast.
The fishermen say they were in Chinese waters and that Philippine maritime police had no right to arrest them. Philippine police officers say the Qiongqionghai 09063’s crew used the territorial dispute between Beijing and Manila over the resource-rich Spratly Islands in the South China Sea as a ploy to avoid prosecution.
“Our arrest is unlawful, because we were in Chinese waters,” said Chen Qiyuan [picture below], the 38-year old captain of the fishing vessel, as he sat idly on a bench in the Palawan Provincial Jail[…].
Chen and his crew have refused to provide fingerprints, or sign court or jail documents seen by the Post. They pleaded not guilty during the arraignment in May.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has raised the cause of the fishermen with the Philippine government.
Chen’s crew has been separated from the rest of the Filipino inmates in the Palawan jail to prevent ‘ethnic conflict’.
The Chinese boat crew (11 fishermen at first, 2 underage members have been released for repatriation since) was abducted at the beginning of last May some 55 nautical miles off the Palawan coast by the Philippine police. Onboard, police unit found more than 500 turtles, some alive and others chopped into small pieces. This marks a record in Palawan said Adelina Benavente-Villena, chief of staff of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
The turtle trade can be very profitable to local fishermen with some specimen selling as high as HK$6, 200 per head. Sadly, local law enforcement teams do not have the means to completely stop wildlife poaching.
This trial also raises concerns in regards to the diplomatic ties that China and the Philippines entertain at the moment. Tensions have escalated over territorial disputes in the South China Sea in the past months. This article provides a good synthesis on the Philippine boat police actions and their impacts on Sino-Philippines relations.
By Aliaume Leroy
[Images via the SCMP]