TAIPEI - A Chinese fishing boat was caught illegally harvesting coral and endangered turtles in waters around the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the north of the contested South China Sea, Taipei's Coast Guard Administration said Thursday.
A CGA source told Kyodo News that Maritime Patrol Directorate General vessels spotted a Chinese fishing boat harvesting coral and green sea turtles in the Dongsha Atoll National Park at around 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday during anti-poaching crackdown operations in the area.
Among the catch, officials found more than 15,000 kilograms of coral -- including valuable red coral -- and three green sea turtles, one of which was dead and had been dismembered, the source said.
The annual limit set by Taiwan for coral harvesting is 200 kg.
CGA officials are bringing the 300-ton boat and more than 40 people on board to Kaohsiung, marking the first time to bring suspects back to Taiwan for questioning, where they may face punishment, the source said.
Harvesting of fish and coral is prohibited in the national park, which is about 450 kilometers west of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
Formerly a post-World War II military base, Dongsha Island is the only inhabited atoll positioned on the circumference of the Pratas chain.
While the national park was established in 2007, it has yet to be opened to the public due to moves to protect the marine resources and ecosystem that were severely damaged by human activities and global warming in 1990s.
Besides the Pratas Islands, Taiwan also controls Taiping Island in the Spratly Archipelago of the South China Sea, which is potentially rich with oil and gas.
In addition to Taiwan, the disputes over islands and reefs in the region involve China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.