4 Dead, 55 Fall Sick After Eating Giant Turtle

Four people are dead and 55 seriously ill after consuming a giant sea turtle netted off the coast of Si­ha­noukville on Saturday, officials said.

Fishermen from Tumnop Rolork village in Mittapheap district caught the meter-long, 34-kg turtle in their nets on Saturday and, delighted by their catch, divided the meat up among the village, district police Chief Kheng Sophal said on Tues­day.

A day after eating the turtle, 60 inhabitants of Tumnop Rolork were struck down with vomiting and diar­­rhea.

The first to perish from the toxic meat was a seven-month-old girl, Keo Pov, who died Sunday, Kheng Sophal said.

A 5-year-old girl, Pen Sophors, died shortly after arriving at Si­ha­noukville Referral Hospital on Monday morning. A 38-year-old wo­man, Keo Saroeun, and her 2-year-old daughter, Keo Tha, died in Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hos­pital on Monday afternoon, he said.

More than 60 patients sought treatment at Sihanoukville Referral Hospital on Sunday and Monday, with two of the worst affected pa­tients showing signs of improvement by Tuesday afternoon, the hospital’s technical chief, Chan Vi­bol, said by telephone.

“The patients were panting, vomiting and they had diarrhea,” Chan Vibol said.

Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak said municipal officials went to in­ves­­tigate the mass poisoning on Monday and have asked fishery of­­ficials to develop a public awareness program about the dangers of eating sea turtles.

“We will announce the dangers on TV and radio stations,” Say Hak said, adding that outside the rainy season, sea turtles are usually safe to eat.

In December 2002, three people died and 100 were seriously ill after eating a giant Logger Head sea turtle in Mittapheap’s Koh Rong’s commune.

Listed as an endangered species, giant sea turtles live around coral reefs, shallow coasts, and lagoons in tropical and subtropical seas.

Feeding on jellyfish, starfish, fish, crustaceans and sea sponges, sea turtles also eat poisonous sponges but are not harmed by the toxins, which they store in their flesh.

But the stored poison makes the turtle’s meat lethal for the un­wary.

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