- China has urged the Philippines to "guarantee the safety" of fishermen accused of poaching
- 12 Chinese nationals were arrested on April 8 after their ship ran aground on a reef
- The coral reef was the same marine park where a U.S. Navy minesweeper ran aground
- Tubbahata Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site with restricted access
China has urged the Philippines to "guarantee the safety and legitimate rights" of fishermen who have been taken into custody for poaching after their vessel ran aground on the protected Tubbataha Reef -- the latest incident in often tense relations among nations in the South China Sea.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei made his comments on Thursday, state-run Xinhua reported, a day after Philippine authorities formally charged 12 fishermen with poaching and attempting to "corrupt public officials," the Tubbataha management office said in a news release.
The 12 Chinese nationals were arrested on April 8 after their ship ran aground on the reef. The fishermen also faced administrative charges for for illegally entering Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and for damage to the reefs. Crews will be sent to remove fuel from the 500-ton vessel to attempt to float it off the seabed, according to park authorities.
The coral reef was the same that a U.S. Navy minesweeper ran aground and damaged the reef on January 17. Earlier this week, Philippine officials said they would be sending the U.S. government a $1.5 million bill for damage to the reef.