When the story of the Philippines Police arresting Chinese fishermen for illegally fishing sea turtles in Half Moon Shoal broke a few days ago, I immediately read saw in the news that families of fishermen highly doubt the veracity of that story since the fishermen did not leave with equipment to poach turtles…
Well, here are a few more details from xinhua.
QIONGHAI, Hainan, May 15 (Xinhua) — Two Chinese fishermen released by Philippine authorities have said that sea turtles they were accused of poaching were actually traded from a Vietnamese fishing boat.
“When we got caught by the Philippine police, it’s true that there were dozens of sea turtles on our vessel, but we had exchanged them with Vietnamese fishermen for food,” said Li Xianghui, one of the two fishermen released by a Philippine court earlier this week because they were found to be minors.
Li, who has just returned to his home in Tanmen, a fishing town in Hainan Province, recalled that they set sail on April 24 and reached the Half Moon Shoal in the South China Sea on April 29, where they met with the Vietnamese fishing boat with more than ten fishermen on board.
“They wanted to barter their turtles with daily supplies, so we gave them a bag of rice, four boxes of instant noodles, six cartons of beer, and some drinking water in exchange,” Li told Xinhua.
He said they usually encounter Vietnamese or Philippine fishermen catching sea turtles, who ask to exchange the creatures with Chinese fishermen for living supplies. They give the turtles to relevant authorities back home.
Philippine police captured 11 Chinese fishermen aboard Qiongqionghai 09063 near the Half Moon Shoal on May 6, claiming that they had been poaching sea turtles.
Philippine media reported that more than 500 sea turtles had been found on the Chinese vessel, and many were dead according to photographs published by Philippine police.
“There were not that many turtles on our vessel, and the turtles were still alive when we were caught because we kept them in water tanks for protection,” Li said, adding that they were there to catch profitable ornamental fish.
Fu Xuanchao, secretary of the Qionghai municipal committee of the Communist Party of China, said that China has put sea turtles under national priority protection. Catching, killing or sale of them have been strictly prohibited in local markets.
Questions have been raised over the authenticity of the photos as they have no dates of when they were taken. Also, it’s impossible for the fishermen to catch over 500 sea turtles in such a short period.
Li said he was still in shock over the attack, even though he was back home.
“On May 6, we saw seven or eight men with balaclavas on a small boat approaching us. They forcibly boarded our boat and fired shots into the air. We thought they were pirates,” Li said.
All the 11 Chinese fishermen were put into a four-square-meter cabin, where the temperature exceeded 30 degrees Celsius. “They switched off the navigation and alarm system. We were so scared,” Li recalled.
During a 38-hour sail to Palawan of the Philippines, Li and his fellow fishermen were not given food but only one bottle of water. They were forced to give fingerprints, and hand over all their personal belongings, including televisions, mobile phones, satellite phones, clothes and food supplies.
“We were put in a small cell without beds. Owing to the language barrier, we could not communicate with the Philippine police. They gestured and even threatened us with their guns against our heads,” said He Zhuang, who was released with Li.
“They followed us with guns even when we went to pee,” he said, “everyone was depressed and all we could do was to encourage each other.”
According to He, the Chinese fishermen were taken to court twice, but they can’t understand what the judges said or appeal against the case.
“The Half Moon Shoal is a traditional fishing ground for us,” Li said, “this is the first time that we encountered Philippine police, who took a fishing boat to pretend they were fishermen.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry last week urged the Philippines to immediately release the fishermen and make rational explanations.
China has undisputable sovereign rights over the sea area, including the Half Moon Shoal of Nansha Islands, where the incident occurred, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.