Sea turtle trafficking ring busted

The Environmental Police has confiscated thousands of sea turtles from a trafficking ring in the central province of Khanh Hoa.

The endangered animals were seized in two sea turtle processing shops in Phuoc Ha Village of Phuoc Dong Commune in the province's Nha Trang City.

A 38-year-old man from the northern province of Ha Nam owned the shops. Since the police were still investigating, his name was not released.

After some months watching and keeping track of the shop owner, on November 20 the police rushed into the shop to arrest him.

In the first shop, the police seized 29 bags of turtles and turtle parts weighing nearly 600kg.

The second shop held many more turtles, most intact and about 70cm in length. The owner placed them on shelves as high as the roof. The police handed the collected turtles over to the Institute of Oceanography.

One of the shop owner's accomplices admitted to police that when he heard them coming, he removed evidence and allowed 20 of his 30 workers to leave. He also told them that if they revealed any information about the turtles in the shop, they would be fired.

Col. Dao Van Toan, head of the province's Environmental Police, said this was the most turtles they'd ever found being stored illegally.

Police said the shop owner did not provide permits for the storage space, but he told them he was unaware he was violating any laws.

The endangered turtles cannot be bred, exploited, bought, stored or processed under Vietnamese law.

10 years of smuggling

Residents of Phuoc Dong Commune said the shop owner had been smuggling sea turtles for about 10 years. In 2007, the owner's brother was found breeding hundreds of turtles and was penalised.

Chinese people bought the turtles to bury under their house columns for the geomancy benefits, the owner said.

He bought turtles from restaurants around the province, which served their meat and gave him the rest of their bodies.

The shops and their waste water smelled of chemicals, and the crabs and snails living around the shops died, local residents said.

Nguyen Thi Phuong Dung, deputy director of Education for Nature-Vietnam, the agency that informed the police of the smuggling, said the police's quick response showed an effort to protect endangered wild animals. But more effort from the people's court was needed, she said.