Philippines fines Chinese fishermen $102,000 each for poaching

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines Mon Nov 24, 2014 2:54am EST

The Philippines’ National Police Special Boat Unit seized this boat, which they say was manned by Chinese poachers that were catching endangered turtles in Filipino territorial waters, Palawan, Philippines, Sept. 3, 2014. (Jason Strother/VOA)

The Philippines’ National Police Special Boat Unit seized this boat, which they say was manned by Chinese poachers that were catching endangered turtles in Filipino territorial waters, Palawan, Philippines, Sept. 3, 2014. (Jason Strother/VOA)

(Reuters) – A Philippine court on Monday fined nine Chinese fishermen $102,000 each after they were caught with hundreds of sea turtles in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea amid a festering territorial standoff between the two sides.

China claims almost all of the entire South China Sea, believed to be rich with minerals and oil-and-gas deposits and one of Asia’s biggest possible flashpoints. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.

Philippine police arrested the fishermen and seized their boat off Half Moon Shoal, a disputed territory in the Spratly Islands within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone, in May. Two of the fishermen were sent home because they were minors.

After three months of trial, Judge Ambrosio de Luna found the fishermen guilty of poaching in Philippine waters and of illegal possession of endangered green sea turtles.

It was not immediately clear how the fishermen would find the funds to pay the fines, but they face six months’ jail if they fail to pay up, time already served, suggesting they could even be released.

“We’re merely imposing our laws,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters. “We tried to look for ways to be lenient. I think they will credit whatever time has been served already.”

China protested against the arrests and does not recognise the trial, saying the nine were detained in China’s territorial waters.

IHS Jane’s, a leading defence publication, said on Friday satellite images show China is building an island on a reef elsewhere in the Spratlys large enough to accommodate what could be its first offshore airstrip in the South China Sea. 

Chinese land reclamation operations in the South China Sea

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Chinese land reclamation operations at Fiery Cross reef in the South China Sea Photo: CNES 2014, Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image / IHS

Del Rosario said the military had been asked to investigate.

The building work, if confirmed, would fly in the face of U.S. calls for a freeze in provocative activity in the South China Sea, one of Asia’s biggest security issues. Concern is growing about an escalation in disputes even as claimants work to establish a code of conduct to resolve them.

Two Vietnamese frigates were due to arrive in the Philippines on Monday on a goodwill visit, the first time Hanoi has sent warships to the archipelago.

Vietnam’s warships HQ-011 and HQ-012

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Related:

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A photograph taken in February of the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea, a reef occupied by China but also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. According to the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, this photo appears to show large-scale reclamation being carried out in stages by China. — Photo: Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs

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A Chinese Coastguard vessel patrols near the BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost, in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea March 30, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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An example of what Vietnam calls  China’s “lawlessness” at sea: A Chinese ship rams and collides with a Vietnamese vessel in contested waters of the South China Sea. Photo: AFP photograb

In May 2014, China moved its largest ocean going oil rig to the waters near Vietnam. The oil drilling rig remained in place for more than a month despite Vietnamese diplomatic moves to protest.

China considers much of the South China Sea its territory based on its nine-dash line map. The map covers an area that extends hundreds of miles south from Hainan Island and takes in the Paracels, which are claimed by Vietnam, and the Spratly Islands, some of which are claimed by the Philippines. China is creating artificial islands in the Spratly area.

China claims to own all the South China Sea inside the “nine dash line” as seen here.

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

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