China appears to be changing its position on Ecuador’s right to prosecute Chinese fishermen and detain a Chinese-flagged fishing ship caught in Galapagos Islands protected waters. In its latest statement, the Chinese government is questioning Ecuador’s actions and the move could jeopardize diplomatic relations between the two countries.
After at first saying it recognized Ecuador’s right to protect its fishing rights, China now claims that the Chinese fishing vessel was seized outside of the Galapagos preserve. The claim contradicts the Ecuadorian navy’s evidence which included GPS coordinates inside the preserve.
On August 27, a judge found the crew of the Chinese fishing ship Yuan Yu Leng guilty of environmental crimes for fishing in the protected waters of Galapagos National Park. Most of the crew received one-year jail terms, with the captain and other officers receiving sentences of up to four years. The fishermen were transferred Wednesday from Santa Cruz Island to a detention facility in Manta.
In addition, the judge ordered the factory ship to be sold with the proceeds going to strengthen environmental protections within the Galapagos ocean preserve. The ship’s value is estimated between $5 million and $6.5 million.
The ship was captured on August 17 by the Ecuadorian navy with more than 300 tons of fish in its refrigerated holds. According to officials in the Galapagos, many of the fish were endangered species, including several types of sharks. In all, more than 6,600 sharks were found on the ship, most with their fins removed.
On Thursday, the Chinese foreign ministry questioned whether the ship had been in the Galapagos restricted area when it was detained.
According to Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, the judgment against the ship and crew was made without evidence that the ship was in Galapagos waters or that it was engaged in fishing in the area. “We question the evidence used in this trial as well as the judge sentences,” he said.
At the trial, officials of Ecuador’s navy provided GPS tracking information it said proved the location of the ship at the time of capture.