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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May 2005, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Shark rescue operation goes wrong
Shark (archive)
Sharks are a protected species in India
An effort to save nearly 50 live sharks from poachers in the Sunderbans area of the Indian state of West Bengal appears to have gone disastrously wrong.

Wildlife officials say that although the sharks were initially recovered alive, several mishaps meant that they all died as the poachers were arrested.

The sharks were due to be supplied to luxury hotels in nearby Calcutta, where their fins are treated as a delicacy.

But police intercepted the shipment and arrested 19 poachers.

Dangers posed

According to police, they intercepted a trawler carrying the sharks in an overnight operation. But in the subsequent confusion the sharks were taken out of water.

They say that the raiding party which intercepted the poachers - afraid of the dangers posed by the sharks - ordered them to throw the sharks from the deck of their vessel onto the sand by a jetty.

Officials say that this was also done so that police officers could make sure that none of the poachers escaped and that all the necessary paperwork was completed.

"The raiding part made a mistake. In the chaos that followed the seizure and the arrests, they were busy with other things, and forgot to preserve the sharks," wildlife official M Rehman told the BBC.

Officials say that the sharks were due to be supplied to luxury hotels in nearby Calcutta, where their fins are seen as a luxury food and in popular demand.

Police say they made the arrests after a tip-off from another smuggler.

They say that the owner of the trawler was arrested along with 10 alleged gang members after a suspected smuggler was detained in a midnight raid on a village in the Namkhana region.

Delicacy

Mr Rehman said the sharks weighed between six to 120 kg. They were being taken by boat from the Bay of Bengal through the Sundarbans to Calcutta.

"They were supplying the sharks to some five-star hotels, where there's a demand for shark meat, and particularly its fins," police spokesman Chanchal Dutta told the BBC 's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta.

In the chaos that followed the seizure and the arrests, they were busy with other things, and forgot to preserve the sharks
Indian wildlife official M Rehman

Those arrested have been remanded in custody for 15 days by a Calcutta court.

They have been charged with offences under the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), and for violating the Sundarbans Biosphere reserve.

Shark is categorised as an endangered species in India and is classified as such under the terms of the WPA.

The punishment for illegal trading in sharks amounts to a minimum 10 years in jail and 20,000 rupees ($460) fine.



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