Two men on the run after 'horrifying' discovery on Balinese boat

Balinese authorities made a “horrifying” discovery on Thursday night following a tip-off that a pair of wooden boats were smuggling endangered animals onto the island.

With a religious ceremony just days away, dozens of endangered green sea turtles had been illegally captured from other parts of Indonesia and smuggled onto Bali for slaughter. Supplied video shows thick plastic rope stretched through holes cut into the animal’s flippers to stop them escaping.

When Navy boats approached their wooden vessels about 15 metres from Klatakan Beach, two suspects fled onto land, but they may not be on the run for long. Mr Sumarsono, the legal director of the Bali Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) told Yahoo News Australia authorities believe they know who they are.

Two wooden boats in the early morning light on the water. Men carry sea turtles to shore.
Forty-three green sea turtles were carried ashore from two wooden vessels to a western Bali beach. Source: Femke den Haas

“When we arrived at the boat, both of them are missing, they escaped. We had to decide whether to concentrate on the turtles or arrest the two people,” he said. “So we decided to save the 43 sea turtles and let (the suspects) go for a while.”

Clandestine network smuggling turtles to Bali

The raid involved over 30 officers from the Navy and Department of Forestry and Wildlife, along with representatives of the charity Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN). With the boats abandoned, the team lifted the turtles onto their shoulders and carried them onto the beach for assessment.

Three images of the bound sea turtles, including a close up of the plastic rope on the right.
Plastic rope had been threaded through the turtle's flippers. Source: Femke den Haas

JAAN co-founder Femke den Haas described the turtle's ordeal and the methods used to bind them as “horrific”. However, despite their brutal confinement, all but nine of the animals were healthy enough to be set free by her son Rio and Indonesian authorities on Saturday. The others were taken to the Umahlumba marine rescue facility in nearby Banyuwedang for rehabilitation.

Large numbers of green sea turtles are illegally sold for food and cultural purposes on Bali, putting some Indonesian populations at risk. In August, JAAN rescued 12 that were tied up on a beach, waiting for transport to Madura Island and then onto Bali.

Rio den Haas sitting by a number of sea turtles (right). The sea turtles on the beach (left).
Ms den Haas's son Rio (left) helped authorities free the turtles and rehabilitate them at the Umahlumba, which is run in partnership between JAAN, Dolphin Project and the Minister of Forestry. Source: Femke den Haas

“There seems to be quite a network of people catching sea turtles all over to bring them to Bali,” Ms den Haas said. “They're taking them from nesting sites. They're taking them from the ocean with netting. Then they put them on in the beach and they hide them.”

Ms den Haas said the problem of turtle smuggling isn’t growing, there are just increased investigations to counter their operations. “More and more people are getting captured now and are getting legally processed, so more people will think twice,” she said.

Colonel Marine Dewa Rake from Indonesian Naval Base Denpasar told Yahoo News Australia an investigation into the smuggling is ongoing.

"We must participate to help our government protect our special environment, whether it is from smuggling sea turtles or illegal fishing," he said. "The Indonesian Navy will continue to strive to carry out law enforcement duties at sea and maintain security at sea against all criminal acts that can threaten and harm Indonesia, including the problem of smuggling turtles or protected animals and in synergy with relevant government officials."

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