The U.S. government has been fined $1.5 million for damages the Navy caused when one of its minesweepers rammed into a World Heritage-listed coral reef in the Philippines, officials announced on Monday.
2,345.67 square meters of the Tubbataha reef were damaged, according to an assessment led by US Navy marine biologist Lee Shannon from April 3 - 5, far less than the 4,100 square meters the previous survey had estimated were damaged when the USS Guardian smashed into the reef.
Tubbataha Reef park superintendent Angelique Songco slammed the fine as merely "a slap on the wrist" for the US.
UPI reports that Former Philippine Sen. Jamby Madrigal, author of the Tubbataha Protected Area Act, called the fine "loose change compared to the long-term damage to the reef" and said "offenders must be taught hard lessons."
The US Navy reported that the commanding officer and three other crew members of the Guardian were relieved of their duties last week. "The initial investigation findings clearly indicate that the CO, Lt. Cmdr. Mark A. Rice; the executive officer (XO)/navigator, Lt. Daniel Tyler; the assistant navigator; and the officer of the deck at the time of the grounding did not adhere to standard U.S. Navy navigation procedures. The U.S. Navy has the highest accountability standards, and all four Sailors were relieved by Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley due to their role in the grounding and a loss of confidence," the Navy said in a statement.
At a decommissioning ceremony for the ship last month, however, the crew was hailed for its "extraordinary heroism" during the incident.