MANILA, Philippines - Philippine authorities have arrested nine Chinese fishermen for allegedly poaching protected species including sea turtles, authorities said Tuesday.
A coastguard patrol boat detected the suspicious Chinese fishing vessel off the southwestern island of Balabac before dawn on May 27, a coastguard statement said.
The Chinese boat tried unsuccessfully to evade the coastguard by speeding away with all lights turned off, according to the statement, which added the fishermen were seen throwing items off the vessel before it was boarded.
"The team recovered two embalmed sea turtles and several bottles which were suspected to contain giant clam meat. The team also noticed fresh blood and sea turtle scales on the vessel’s deck," the coastguard's report said.
The nine men on board are being held on the nearby island of Palawan where they could face charges of poaching a protected species, said Adel Villena, a lawyer with the government's environment agency.
While in custody, the nine said through an interpreter that they had 10 other Chinese companions in a smaller boat who were left at sea when they were brought in, Villena told AFP.
However, the nine were reluctant to give details, possibly for fear of incriminating themselves, she said.
Coastguard officials said they had no knowledge of any other vessels in that area.
Chinese embassy spokesmen declined to comment, saying they were awaiting more information on the incident.
Villena said that about 500 Chinese fishermen had been caught allegedly illegally poaching in waters off the western island of Palawan since 2001 but all of them had been released apparently due to diplomatic pressure.