Six Chinese fishermen have been arrested in western Philippine waters for catching endangered sea turtles, officials said Sunday.
The fishermen, from China's southern island province of Hainan, were arrested Friday in waters off western Palawan province's Balabac township, said Maj. Niel Estrella, a Philippine military spokesman.
They are expected to be charged in court Monday for violating the Philippines' wildlife act and fisheries code provisions against catching endangered animals, said Adelina Villena, chief lawyer at the government's Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
The fishermen's speedboat was intercepted by a joint team from the navy, coast guard and environment department.
Glenda Cadigal, a wildlife specialist at the Palawan Council, said the catch included 12 green sea turtles. Three turtles were alive and have been released, while nine were dead.
Villena said that if found guilty, the fishermen face a jail term of up to four years for violating the country's wildlife act, and up to 20 years for violating the fisheries code.
Estrella said the arresting team suspects that the Chinese fishermen's mother ship may have escaped when the speedboat was intercepted.
Palawan is the nearest Philippine province to the disputed Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
Endangered sea turtles are often caught for food and for use in traditional medicine.