PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—Sailors rescued more than a hundred sea turtles from poachers but Chinese nationals who were allegedly buying the endangered animals escaped, the Navy said on Friday.
At least 123 turtles were recovered from three fishpens off the western island of Balabac on Tuesday as part of a campaign against such illegal activities, the Navy statement said.
“At least six Chinese nationals were sighted fleeing the area using a speedboat when the raiding party arrived in the area,” regional naval chief Cmdr. Rostum Joseph Pena was quoted as saying.
It took two days to remove all the turtles from the fishpens and six of them were found dead, he said.
Residents have reported that Chinese financiers were paying local people to gather the turtles for P5,000 each, so they could be shipped abroad, the Navy commander said.
The turtles were released in a marine reserve, the Navy said.
Sea turtles are protected under Philippine law, and catching them is punishable by at least 12 years in jail.
Chinese poaching in Philippine waters has become a thorny issue in recent months.
In April, Philippine authorities tried to arrest Chinese fishermen taking sea turtles and other protected species from Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), triggering a standoff with Chinese ships that still continues.
China and the Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, have overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea, which includes major shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in mineral and oil resources.