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11 Chinese poachers arrested

MANILA, Philippines - Maritime patrollers intercepted on Tuesday a Chinese fishing vessel with 11 crewmembers near Half Moon Shoal, an area very close to mainland Palawan.

Qiongquionghai 09063, with its crewmembers on board, was still being towed to the Puerto Princesa City port as of press time, according to a senior security official.

A local fishing vessel with five crewmembers, including the captain, was also intercepted in the Philippine National Police (PNP)-Maritime Command-led operations with the support of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Western Command.

“At about 7 a.m. May 6, 2014 at Half Moon Shoal, Palawan two vessels were captured. One local with five Muslim crewmen and carrying more or less 40 turtles and the other one is from China with 11 crewmembers and carrying more or less 500 turtles,” a senior security official said.

“Filing of charges will be at Puerto Princesa City upon arrival of the team,” the official, who asked not to be named, said.

China’s foreign ministry said it had asked the Philippines to immediately hand back the Chinese fishing boat and its crew.

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The Philippines should stop taking provocative actions, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippine authorities seized the ship and arrested its crew in the enforcement of maritime laws and the upholding sovereign rights over the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“Relevant authorities in Palawan will address the case in a just, humane and expeditious manner,” the DFA said in a statement.

Lost contact

China said it had lost contact with its 11 fishermen when armed men who fired warning shots near Half Moon Shoal intercepted their vessel.

“A second Chinese fishing boat nearby outran another boatload of armed men. Two other boats in the area were mobilized to conduct a search, but had turned up nothing by Wednesday morning,” China’s Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

Turtles seized

Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, director of the PNP-Public Information Office, said operatives of the Maritime Group also seized 190 live and 234 dead turtles from the two groups.

Quoting a report from the PNP Maritime Group, Sindac said the arrest of the alleged poachers took place at around 7 a.m. on May 6 but the incident was reported to the national headquarters only yesterday due to lack of communication in the area.

He said the first vessel is a local boat with five Muslim passengers and carrying around 40 turtles while the Chinese boat was carrying around 500 turtles.

The captain of the Chinese vessel, which has an average capacity of 15 tons, was identified as Chen Hi Quan. The captain of the Filipino boat was Romantic Banto Amlain.

Only 60 nautical miles from mainland Palawan, Half-Moon or Hasa-Hasa shoal is included in China’s encompassing maritime claim in the West Philippine Sea.

In July 2012, a missile-firing Chinese frigate ran aground in the area, triggering protest from the Philippine government.

Aside from its forward naval station in full operations at the Philippine-owned Panganiban Reef, China with its frigates and surveillance ships, is busy reclaiming shoals and reefs they have started occupying in the region to advance its territorial claim over the area. - With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Aurea Calica

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