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Police arrest six for illegal removal of rare red coral

By INÊS LOPES – [email protected]

Maritime Police arrested six individuals last Friday for the illegal removal and exploitation of a rare deep-sea coral off the Algarve coast.

Police authorities seized 32kg of the rare species of red coral from three boats carrying highly sophisticated deep sea diving equipment.

The arrests followed weeks of investigation into evidence collected by the authorities which led to the dismantling of the illegal network operating off the Algarve coast.

The Polícia Marítima told the Algarve Resident that the rare coral, used to make jewellery for its durable and intense colour, is worth thousands of euros on the market.

Commandant Cruz Martins from the Portimão and Lagos Ports said: “One kilo of the rough coral is believed to cost €1,000 and to have a value of between €20,000 and €30,000 once prepared for the jewellery industry.” The seized coral is estimated to be worth nearly €1 million to the jewellery industry.

The suspects, three Portuguese and three Spanish, carried out the crime supported by a Spanish registered vessel, which had a hyperbaric chamber installed, and two Portuguese registered boats.

Endangered species

Police confirmed the seized coral was due to be traded in the European market.

Commandant Cruz Martins said: “This type of red coral is an endangered species and is often sought for its use in the manufacturing of jewellery.”

Red corals are slow growing (one centimetre each 10 years) and thus vulnerable to exploitation. The coral seized in the Algarve is expected to be several hundred years old.

Commandant Cruz Martins added that the authorities would not tolerate the depletion of these natural resources, but admitted that investigation into this type of crimes was not easy as on a normal Maritime Police patrol, “the individuals can just throw the corals into the sea, with no evidence to show for the crime.”