TAIPEI - A Chinese fishing boat has been caught for illegally harvesting coral and endangered turtles in waters around the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported, citing the island's Coast Guard Administration (CGA).
Acting on a tip-off earlier this week that a Chinese fishing boat was detected operating in the island's waters, the Coast Guard had deployed the 3,000-tonne Kaohsiung patrol ship and three 100-tonne patrol boats to the area last Tuesday, the CGA said according to the report on Sunday (March 27).
The patrol boats spotted a Chinese fishing boat in waters 7.5 nautical miles south of Pratas Island, which are also known as Dongsha Islands and claimed by China.
After taking control of the ship last Wednesday, they found 15,000kg of a total of 21 species of coral, 400kg of shellfish and three endangered green sea turtles on board, as well as 40kg of toxic chemicals used to kill fish on the boat, the CGA said.
Coast Guard officials detained the fishing boat and its 41 crew members and brought them to Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan for questioning, the report said. They could be prosecuted in Taiwan.
The CDA also dispersed 11 Chinese fishing boats and seized two small Chinese-registered boats for investigation.
The harvesting of coral and targeting of specific species and colours by Chinese fishing boats is posing a serious threat to the area's coral reef ecosystem, the CDA said, citing experts.
The agency said it would continue to crack down on Chinese fishing boats trespassing in the area
The Pratas Islands comprise the main Pratas Island and two coral reefs that are submerged at high tide. They are located about 400km southwest of Taiwan in the northern part of the South China Sea and are administered by Taipei.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, while Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines claim parts of the waterway through which trade worth US$5 trillion (S$6.9 trillion) passes every year.