PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines Aug 5 A Philippine
court on Tuesday found 12 Chinese fishermen guilty of illegal
fishing in Philippine waters, sending them to jail for six to 12
years, the first convictions since tension between the
neighbours flared over rival claims in the South China Sea.
Philippine rangers caught the fishermen after their boat ran
aground on Tubbataha Reef in April 2013. The reef is not claimed
by China but the jailing of the 12 is likely to put more strain
on already tense ties.
A Public Attorney's Office (PAO) defending the men said he
"We believe the Chinese fishermen are innocent, they did not
intend to go into Philippine territory but was forced by bad
weather," the lawyer told reporters.
The fishermen sat quietly listening to the verdict which
court staff read in English and translated to Chinese.
The captain was sentenced to prison for 12 years while his
men were sentenced to from six to 10 years. Judge Ambrosio de
Luna also ordered them to pay a fine of $100,000.
The fishermen were also carrying a cargo of pangolins, which
is an endangered mammal, like an anteater, eaten in China.
They had said they were on their way from Indonesia to China
when bad weather forced them to take shelter at the reef, and
they were not aware they were in Philippine territory.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, an area
believed rich in oil and gas deposits and fishery resources.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also
claims the sea where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade
passes every year.
Last year, the Philippines filed an arbitration case against
China in The Hague over their rival claims in the sea.
(Additional reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert