KOTA KINABALU: Authorities are checking if the crew of two Chinese boats found with 330 turtles had been poaching in Philippine waters before they were caught in the sea off Sabah.
Sabah fisheries officers suspect that the green and hawksbill turtles were caught in the Balabac Strait that separates the southern Philippines island of Palawan with Pulau Balambangan and Pulau Banggi in northern Sabah.
The boats, bound for Hainan in China, with 36 crew, were detained near Pulau Mengalum and Pulau Mantanani in Sabahs west coast last week.
Both islands (Mengalum and Mantanani) are not known turtle nesting areas, said state Agriculture and Food Industry Minister Datuk Rahim Ismail.
He said that last year, Philippine police detained several China-registered vessels in the Balabac Strait and seized dozens of turtles.
The crew from both vessels were likely to be charged in court this week for encroachment and poaching of protected animals.
They face fines of up to RM1mil for the skipper and RM100,000 for each crew member in default jail terms.