KOTA KINABALU: At least 12,000 sea turtles were believed to have been slaughtered as police seized about 9,000kg of its meat being dried in a fishing trawler in waters off Sabah's northern Pulau Banggi.
Describing it as the biggest marine police seizure this year, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jauteh Dikun said that the value of the dried turtle meat and some other endangered marine species were worth about RM4.5mil.
However, he told reporters Monday (Dec 4) that four men on board the trawler managed to escape as a Marine Police patrol boat approached them in waters between the island of Banggi and Bangsi at about 11.15am on Nov 29.
"We believe they are foreigners. They jumped off the boat and fled towards shallow waters. They were picked up by a speed boat. It is believed they were headed towards waters of a neighbouring country," he added.
He said the owner of the trawler registered in Semporna district had been detained for questioning.
"We are investigating whether the owner's vessel is directly involved or rented by a third party," he added.
Comm Jauteh said the marine patrol under Operation Taring Gelora was being carried out in the Mangsee Reef area in the northern Kudat waters when they spotted the trawler.
Comm Jauteh said that the demand for such exotic meat was because the value of turtle meat could reach up to RM500 per kilogram.
Based on preliminary investigations, all the turtles in question were believed to have been caught in the waters of the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea and were meant for markets overseas.
Police suspect the men were not only catching the turtles themselves but also bought them from other parties in the area before it was sold to buyers from abroad.
"According to the Wildlife Department's (JHL) estimates, the amount of seizures this time involved at least 12,000 turtles caught illegally," he said.
Comm Jauteh said that in the same operation, the police also managed to seize sea shells and snails of various species (2,000kg), milk shells (90kg), sea horses (150kg), seaweed (80 kg), shark fins (5kg), grouper (200kg) which were all being dried.
"Police believe the total value of the seized seafood is estimated to be more than RM5mil.
"All goods were confiscated," he said, adding that an investigation was being carried out under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.