updated 4/19/2007 11:42:11 PM ET 2007-04-20T03:42:11

Three men have been charged with contributing to the deaths of hundreds of baby seabirds that fell out of their nest on an abandoned barge and drowned, prosecutors said Thursday.

Point Loma Maritime Services, Inc. owner Ralph Botticelli, tugboat captain Alan Schlange and crewmember Scott Caslin were charged Wednesday in the deaths of more than 400 Caspian and elegent terns, authorities said.

In June, the terns fell out of their nests on an abandoned barge, drowned and days later washed ashore by the hundreds. State wildlife investigators believe the men tried to move two barges from the port complex, causing the birds to flee their nests.

Earlier this week, Botticelli told the Los Angeles Times the incident was “an honest and unfortunate mistake.”

“The birds just kamikazed off the side,” Botticelli said. “They had no idea there were birds there.”

Botticelli, 39, Schlange, 38, and Caslin, 32, were each charged with seven misdemeanor counts for illegally removing, harassing and causing the death of the terns. They also were charged with destroying several nests.

Most of the charges carry six months in jail or a maximum fine of $1,000 for each count. Two of the charges carry a maximum one year in jail or $2,000 fine.

None of the men could immediately be reached for comment. It wasn’t immediately known if any had retained an attorney.

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