KIAMBA, May 12, 2011 (AFP) – A foreign cargo ship is stranded on a protected coral reef in the southern Philippines and may be stuck for three weeks, raising fears of environmental damage, authorities said Thursday.

The Panamanian-registered MV Double Prosperity, was carrying about 65,000 tonnes of coal from Australia to India when it hit Bakud Reef on Sunday, regional coast guard commander Roy Echeverria told AFP.

About three-quarters of the 225-metre-long (743-foot-long) ship is stuck on the reef and it is lying in barely two metres of water, making the task of refloating it very difficult, he said.

“Weather permitting… the ship may be extricated within more or less three weeks,” he said, adding it would also take time to bring in specialist equipment.

Echeverria said there were concerns the ship’s fuel may start leaking, and inflatable oil spill booms had been brought into the area as a precaution, although there were no signs this had yet occurred.

A marine biologist will also arrive soon to determine the extent of damage to the reef, said Miguel Dominguez, the governor of Sarangani province.

The reef, located in rich fishing grounds less than 10 kilometres (six miles) off Sarangani’s coast in the far south of the Philippines, is a protected area under a provincial environmental law.

This protected status is aimed at preserving the reef for tourist divers and to keep commercial fishing vessels away.

Even if no major environmental damage occurs, provincial authorities will seek compensation from the ship-owners over the incident, Dominguez said.

“Our objective here is to pulled the boat safely out from the reef… and that the rights of the province are protected and compensated,” he said.