KOTA KINABALU: Malaysian coastguards intercepted a boat and rescued 1,400 tortoises that were being taken out of Sabah for the exotic food market in Vietnam.
Six crewmen, two of them Malaysians, were arrested when the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) intercepted a boat 1.6 nautical miles from the state capital at 3am.
Kota Kinabalu MMEA commander First Admiral Adam Aziz said they believed that the tortoises were to be handed over to buyers in international waters off Pulau Mengalum about 40 nautical miles from here.
“Our investigation indicates that a boat from Vietnam was waiting for them along our international borders,” he said, adding that it is the first time that illegal smuggling and trading of tortoises were detected by the agency.
He said that investigations were carried out under the state Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1996 which carries a fine of between RM30,000 and RM100,000 and a minimum jail term of six months to five years.
“We will be handing the tortoises to the Wildlife Department,” he said, adding that the foreigners among the crew would be investigated for offences under immigration laws.
First Admiral Adam said that the tortoises were collected from a businessmen in Kinarut near Kota Kinabalu and handed over to the members of the crew to be exported to waiting buyers in international waters.
However, the species of the tortoises and whether they are listed under the wildlife protection list in the state could not be immediately ascertained.
Of the 1,400 tortoises seized, 200 were dead.
Each tortoise was valued around RM30.
In a separate incident, the agency is searching for a fishermen Mohd Helmi Otong, 20, who went missing in Samawang waters west of Sabah late Tuesday after his boat capsized.
The boat was recovered but Mohd Helmi is still missing.