The Philippines insisted that compensation must be paid for the environmental damage caused by a US minesweeper that ran aground on a protected coral reef as salvage operations drew to a close.

The Philippine government welcomed the removal of the USS Guardian as salvage crews extracted the last remaining piece of the ship from the Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site, but stressed that the US must be held accountable for the incident.

Initial investigation showed that the 68-meter (223-foot) vessel had damaged about 4,000 square meters (43,055 square feet) of the protected reef and that fines could reach up to $585 for every square meter, officials said.

“We maintain there must be accountability and we will enforce our existing laws,” Herminio Coloma, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, told AFP.

“We will adopt needed measures to prevent a repetition of the incident,” he said.

The US Navy has repeatedly apologized for the incident, but has not clearly explained why the vessel ran aground in the area. The Tubbataha is a protected marine park under Philippine law, and is off limits to any vessel unless permission is granted.