KOTA KINABALU: Six Vietnamese boat crew members were caught for encroaching and stealing the prized sea cucumbers in Sandakan waters, said the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
Worse, they had used catching devices harmful to the ecosystem.
The culprits reportedly tried to flee with one tonne of sea cucumbers illegally taken from Malaysia’s waters when approached by the authorities, added a statement issued by the Sandakan Maritime Zone public relations unit.
This is the fourth case of foreign Vietnamese vessels caught this year by the Sandakan MMEA which had targeted local sea cucumbers.
“A suspicious boat was traced moving in high speed in the dark.
“After pursuing the boat for 50 minutes, the maritime vessel managed to intercept it around 9.55pm on Tuesday at 15.5 nautical miles northeast of Kuala Kinabatangan Besar.
“Inspection found all six men, aged between 27 and 44, did not possess valid documents.
“The boat is believed to have conducted illegal harvesting of sea cucumbers using a metal device specially designed to reach the seabed, causing harm to the ecosystem, especially the corals, ” said Sandakan Maritime Zone director Captain Mohd Khairulanuar Abd Majid.
The boat, fishing equipment and sea cucumbers with an estimated value of RM285,000 were seized, he added.
The MMEA fights a constant battle with illegal foreign fishermen invading our waters for the highly sought after sea cucumbers.
In 2017, The Star ran a special report on the growing issue of encroachment which is causing serious problems for local fishermen who are intimidated by the bigger vessels and even weapons carried by the invaders.
The raiders targeted specific sea creatures such as sea cucumbers because of the huge demand in China.