The Pacific nation of Palau detained a Chinese ship and its crew after they were found allegedly poaching sea cucumbers from protected waters in the Paluan archipelago.
According to the Paluan authorities from the Department of Marine Law and Enforcement, the main vessel, six smaller boats, and its 28 person crew were intercepted at Helen Reef and escorted back to the main island of Koror.
Victor Remengesau, who heads up the department of marine law and enforcement, told The Guardian that the vessel had an estimated 225 kg of sea cucumber on board.
Sea cucumber is a delicacy in Asian markets where it is known as Beche-de-Mer and can reach prices of $3,950 (US$3,000) per kilo.
Palau has not yet decided if they will charge the crew, with Remengesau saying that the government is still discussing the issue.
“We don’t want them any longer than necessary in Palau,” Remengesau said. “It’s unlawful entry. We may care about COVID and the spread of COVID, but we can’t just let people do whatever they want, and disguise illegal activity.”
The waters that surround the Paluan Archipeligo were turned into a protected marine park on Jan. 1. The marine sanctuary covers 80 percent of Palau’s national waters and all extractive activities such as fishing and mining are prohibited.
Palau monitors the park with an Australian-supplied Guardian-class patrol boat, the PSS President HI Remeliik II, which was delivered to Palau in September.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, said on Dec. 15 that the Chinese regime was aware of the situation and that it asks overseas Chinese citizens and companies to comply with the laws of other nations.
However, this is not the first time Chinese fishing fleets have invaded protected territorial waters. Ecuador singled out a 30o strong flotilla of Chinese fishing vessels in August for overfishing the waters next to the protected Galapagos Islands.
Palau and China have a tenuous diplomatic relationship after the CCP banned Chinese tour operators from selling packages to travel to the island nation in 2017 when Palau reportedly refused to drop its diplomatic ties to Taiwan.
There are only four Pacific nations that continue to have diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Chinese regime believes Taiwan to be a renegade province that should be under Beijing’s control.
Palau is also a close ally of the United States, with the Palauan President Tommy Remengesau Jr. offering the United States land for ports, bases, and airfields during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper in September 2019.
U.S. Pacific General Kenneth Wilsbach welcomed the request, reportedly saying that the air force was “absolutely looking forward” to expanding the United States’ military presence in Palau.