Kuala Lumpur, 18 Jun 2006 - Singapore's seizure of an illegal cargo of freshwater turtles on June 13 was the first significant confiscation since the island State's revised Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 2005 (ESA) came into force on March 1, 2006 [see report in The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2006].
Within three days of interception, the captain of the Indonesian ship had pleaded guilty to illegally transporting 2,520 South-east Asian Box Turtles (Cuora amboinensis), and was sentenced to a term of 5 months imprisonment and fined SGD20,000 (approx USD12,545).
South-east Asian Box Turtles are listed on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means trade in this species is legal only with a valid CITES permit.
Acting on a tip-off, enforcement officers from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the CITES Management Authority of Singapore, inspected a ship which arrived at the Jurong Fishing Port from Tembilahan in Sumatra, Indonesia on June 13 and found the illegal reptile consignment.
This is the first case in Singapore involving trans-shipment without a valid permit from the exporting country; an enforcement action that would not have been possible under the previous legislation.
Working with the Port Authority and the Police, AVA seized 72 crates containing the turtles. A fake CITES permit was produced in an attempt to evade prosecution. The ship's Indonesian captain was charged under Section 5 of the ESA, and will likely spend two additional months in prison because he is unable to pay the fine.
A total of 5420 freshwater turtles came on the vessel; 2900 of which were declared legally as non-CITES listed Malayan Softshell Turtles (Dogania subplana) and Asian Leaf Turtles (Cyclemys dentata).
The captain and another crew member claimed that the ultimate destination market for the Southeast Asian Box Turtles was Hong Kong via the Indonesian island of Batam, according to AVA's Wildlife Regulatory Branch Head, Lye Fong Keng.
"We are working closely with the Indonesian authorities to repatriate the box turtles, and see that the exporters in Sumatra are apprehended," said Lye. "We hope this case will deter potential smugglers from using Singapore as a conduit for trans-shipping illegal cargoes of animals and plants."
This crackdown signals Singapore's commitment to deal more seriously with wildlife offenders. Under the revised ESA, illegal traders dealing in endangered species now face higher fines up to SGD50,000 (USD31,362) per specimen, subject to a maximum of SGD500,000 (USD313,620), and with a maximum jail term of two years upon conviction.
Singapore has joined Indonesia and all Member Countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN*) in the newly launched ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN). The success of this regional initiative depends on strong wildlife law enforcement at the national level, and co-operation between government authorities dealing with CITES, Customs and Police jurisdictions to counteract wildlife crime.
"Singapore is fully committed to the goals of ASEAN-WEN, and we will continue to work with Indonesia and other partners in the region to increase active disruption of illegal wildlife trade operations," said Lye Fong Keng.
TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and WildAid, two NGOs working to support ASEAN-WEN, commended Singapore's actions as a key step in the global fight against illegal wildlife smuggling.
"In terms of penalties in the region, Singapore's law enforcement authorities now have more power with which to combat unscrupulous traders," said TRAFFIC's Regional Director, James Compton. "Given Singapore's primacy as a trade hub, the move to impose harsher penalties strengthens the government's commitment to regional wildlife trade law enforcement Ð and we hope neighbouring countries will emulate this effort to both seize illegal cargo and prosecute criminal activity."