Philippines charges Chinese fishermen over reef crash

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard inspect the Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground on Monday in the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan province, 9 April 2013
Image caption The Chinese boat ran aground Tubbataha reef on Monday

The Philippines has charged 12 Chinese fishermen with poaching after their boat ran aground a protected coral reef, reports say.

The men face up to 12 years in jail and $300,000 (£195,784) in fines, said an official from the Tubbataha reef park, a Unesco World Heritage site.

They were also charged with bribery after they allegedly tried to pay off Philippine park rangers.

The US also faces a fine after its ship crashed in the same reef in January.

The Chinese fishing vessel, which measures 48m (157ft), ran aground the reef in the Sulu Sea on Monday.

The fishermen said they reached the reef by accident from Malaysia, Philippine officials were quoted as saying.

Chinese officials have visited the fishermen, who are detained in Palawan province, local reports say.

"We will seek to quickly prosecute and resolve this case," Alen Ross Rodriguez, a local official in Palawan, told the AFP news agency.

"No-one can just enter our waters and wilfully destroy our marine life."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said they had asked the Philippine government to ensure the fishermen's "legitimate rights" and safety.

The boat is the seventh Chinese fishing vessel caught in the area since 2002, according to a statement from the Tubbataha reef park.

The USS Guardian struck the reef south-east of Palawan island on 17 January. The ship was dismantled to minimise damage to the reef and the US has apologised for the accident.

Four navy officers on the minesweeper were relieved of their duties.

According to Unesco, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park is home to a great diversity of marine life. Whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles are among key species found there.

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