The 12 crew members of the Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground a protected Philippine coral reef find themselves in deeper trouble after multiple charges were filed by the Philippines.
Manila has charged the fishermen with poaching and bribery after their boat strayed into the shallows of the World Heritage-listed Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on Monday. They face up to 12 years in jail and $300,000 in fines, said an official from the marine park’s management office, BBC reports.
The men were also charged with bribery after they allegedly tried to pay off the park rangers with $2,400.
The fishermen said they reached the reef by accident from Malaysia amid speculations that the incident was planned to carry out Chinese spying in relation to a territorial dispute with the Philippines.
“At this point, we’re treating it the way it looks, it’s a Chinese fishing vessel, not government-owned, and that it ran aground by accident,” Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters.
Chinese officials arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday to seek the release of the fishermen, echoing claims that they did not intend what happened.