A Chinese crew of 20 fishermen has been detained in Ecuador after being found on a vessel that carried 300 tons of frozen marine animals, including protected species.
The crew, aboard Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, was detained Sunday near the island of San Cristobal, which happens to be one of the most important of its kind in the Galapagos archipelago. UNESCO declared it as a World Natural Heritage in 1978 for its teeming fauna and flora, teleSUR noted.
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The catch, which included endangered species such as the hammerhead, is suspected to be from the Galapagos Islands marine reserve, Ecuador’s Environment Minister Tarsicio Granizo said.
“Not necessarily all of the catch came from the marine reserve, but the fact that it included young sharks, even baby sharks, indicates that they could have been caught inside the reserve,” Granizo told reporters, according to South China Morning Post.
“There were thousands, if not tens of thousands, of sharks,” marine ecologist Pelayo Salinas told the National Geographic. “This is going to be historic. The biggest seizure of sharks in the history of the Galápagos, for sure.”
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For now, the Chinese vessel is reportedly guarded by Ecuador’s navy while a full accounting of its inventory is underway. Under the country’s legal system, crimes against protected species are punishable by up to three years in prison.
“Our policy is zero tolerance for the transport and trafficking of protected wildlife,” Granizo said.
Walter Bustos, director of the Galapagos National Park, vowed likewise, “We are going to act firmly in the face of these events.”