A Philippines court on Monday convicted nine Chinese fishermen for poaching and taking several giant sea turtles from a disputed shoal in the South China Sea. The court fined them $103,000 each but did not hand down a jail term, The Associated Press, or AP, reported.
The fishermen were arrested in May at the Half Moon Shoal and their boat, which had caught 555 endangered sea turtles, was taken into custody. The arrests prompted China to pressure Philippines to release the fishermen claiming that they were in Chinese waters, AP reported. China had also warned Manila not to take "provocative actions so as to avoid further damage to bilateral relations." The shoal is claimed by China and the Philippines, and is known as Nansha in Chinese and as the Spratly Islands internationally.
Judge Ambrosio de Luna of the regional trial court in the province of Palawan had reportedly found the nine men guilty of violating the country's fisheries code, Attorney Hazel Alaska said, according to the AP. Luna could have imposed a jail term of 20 years, along with the fine, for capturing an endangered species, but did not do so, Alaska said.
If the fishermen are unable to pay the fine, they will have to serve six months in jail for each of the crimes, taking the total sentence to a year. The men are currently being held in a provincial jail and will be released only after they pay the fine, AP reported.
There were 11 people on the boat when it was found by Filipino authorities, but two of them were sent back to China without any charges because they were minors, according Agence France-Presse.