The US Navy said it needed to remove thousands of liters of oil from the USS Guardian, warning the 68 meter (224-foot) minesweeper was too badly damaged to be towed away after it ran aground on the World Heritage listed-coral reef off the Philippines.

“The option that we hoped to be able to tow the ship off the reef is not available,” said Rear Admiral Thomas Carney.

“It’s too badly damaged. It’s got hull penetrations in several places, and there’s a significant amount of water inside the ship right now.”

The Guardian will have to be lifted onto another ship or barge which Carney describes as “a very deliberate, complicated process” and could take as long as another fortnight, depending on the environmental conditions.

Strong currents have battered the ship, spinning it around 90 degrees and possibly causing more damage to the Tubbataha Reef.

The most pressing issue was to immediately remove 57,000 liters (15,000 US gallons) of fuel, AFP reports.

“The first priority is to get the fuel out of the ship as soon as possible,” Carney told reporters.

About 1,000 square meters (3,280 square feet) of coral had already been damage in the impact, the Philippine government said this week.