The Philippines will fine the US Navy $1.4 million dollars for damaging more than 2,300 square meters of coral reefs at a marine sanctuary, an official said on Friday.

A US Navy ship, the former USS Guardian, got stuck at the Tubbataha National Marine Park off Palawan province, 600 kilometres west of Manila, when it ran aground on January 17.

A week-long assessment found that 2,345.67 square meters of coral reefs were damaged due to the accident.

The size of the damage area at the UNESCO World Heritage Site was less than the initial estimate of 4,000 square meters.

Angelique Songco, head of the Tubbataha Management Office, said Philippine laws mandate a fine of $ 600 dollars per square meter of damaged corals to cover for penalties and rehabilitation costs.

“The $1.4 million dollars is but a slap on the wrist, as the salvage operation has been estimated to cost close to $ 45 million dollars,” she said in a statement.

“However, we respect the rule of law and these are the fines stipulated. The Tubbataha Management Office will not ask for anything more,” she added.

The US Navy cut up the nearly 70-metre minesweeper to remove it from Tubbataha without causing further damage. The operation took more than two months and was completed only on March 30.

The US Navy and US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas have apologized for the accident after growing anger.

In 2005, environmental activist group Greenpeace was fined almost $ 7,000 dollars when its ship ran aground at the same area. The group blamed an inaccurate chart.