MANILA — The Philippines said Wednesday it had begun deporting 122 Vietnamese fishermen arrested nearly four months ago for illegally fishing in local waters, but huge fines against them were waived.
They group was detained off the western Philippine island of Palawan on May 30 in what local police at the time called the largest single arrest of Vietnamese poachers in the area.
A court in Palawan convicted them of illegal fishing last month and fined them a total of $700,000, an immigration department statement said.
Seventy-seven of the group were deported over the past week after being held in a Palawan jail since their arrests, while the remaining 45 will be sent home as soon as their flights can be arranged, immigration chief Ricardo David said.
"They were placed in our blacklist of undesirable aliens, thus they are now banned from re-entering the Philippines," David said.
However a court ruled they did not have to pay their fine because they did not have the money, the statement said.
The immigration department fined them a further 6.1 million pesos ($140,400) for illegally entering the Philippines, but this was similarly waived.
Many Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen have in recent years been caught poaching in the bountiful waters off Palawan, in some cases for endangered species such as sea turtles.
The fishermen are typically deported even though they could face jail terms.