KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) foiled an attempt to smuggle out some 1,400 tortoises meant for the exotic food market in Vietnam.
Six crewmen, comprising two locals and four fishermen, were also arrested when the MMEA intercepted the boat about 1.6 nautical miles from the state capital at about 3am Wednesday.
Kota Kinabalu MMEA commander First Admiral Adam Aziz said it is believed that the tortoises were to be handed over to buyers in international waters off Pulau Mengalum, about 40 nautical miles from here.
"Our investigations indicate that there was boat from Vietnam waiting for them along our international border," he said, adding that this was first time that the MMEA had detected illegal smuggling and trading of tortoises.
He said that investigations were carried out under the state's Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1996, which carries a fine of between RM30,000 and RM100,000 and a jail term of six months to five years.
"We will be handing it over to the Wildlife Department for further action," he said, while the foreigners among the crew will be investigated also for offences under immigration laws.
First Admiral Adam said that the tortoises were collected from a businessman in Kinarut near Kota Kinabalu and handed over to the members of the crew for "export".
However, it could not be immediately ascertained the exact species of the tortoises and if they fall under the wildlife protection list.
Of the 1,400 tortoise seized, 200 were already dead. Each tortoise is valued around RM30.