QUITO (Ecuador) • A court in Ecuador has sentenced the crew of a Chinese ship caught fishing for endangered sharks in the Galapagos marine reserve to prison terms.
The Chinese-flagged Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 was caught within the protected zone on Aug 13 with 300 tonnes of fish - including some 6,000 sharks, mostly protected species such as the hammerhead and the bigeye thresher.
The court announced on Sunday, the third day of the trial, that it was sentencing the ship captain to four years' jail for committing an environmental crime with aggravating circumstances.
The ship's three top officers were sentenced to three years' jail, while 16 other crew members were jailed for one year.
The court also ordered the crew to pay US$5.9 million (S$8 million) to the Galapagos National Park.
It is unclear if the Chinese crew will appeal the sentence.
"After the enormous indignation we felt, this will definitely compensate for the damage caused because a historic precedent has been set," park director Walter Bustos said.
The 138,000 sq km reserve, a sanctuary for sharks, has been designated by Unesco as a World Heritage site.
Some 27,000 people live on the 19 Galapagos islands, located in the Pacific some 1,000km off Ecuador's coastline.
The Galapagos is famous for its unique flora and fauna studied by Charles Darwin as he developed his Theory of Evolution.
"Zero tolerance for environmental crimes!" tweeted Ecuador's Environment Minister Tarcisio Granizo.
The Chinese ship has been confiscated and will be held in service to the Galapagos park, Mr Granizo said.
Galapagos residents have been protesting against what they say is a fleet of 300 Chinese fishing vessels located in international waters just outside the marine reserve.