The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), approved the salvage operations plan submitted by the US Navy that will use floating cranes to methodically remove the stranded USS Guardian minesweeper in Tubbataha Reef.
“We have carefully reviewed the US Navy’s salvage operations plan and we were assured that among their priorities is to have no further damage to the Tubbataha Reef,” said Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya. “We considered several factors and imposed certain conditions before we gave clearance for the US Navy and commercial salvors it has commissioned to undertake the dismantling and vertical removal of the grounded US ship.”
According to coast Guard Palawan district chief Commodore Enrico Evangelista, the crane ship Smit Borneo arrived at the site last Tuesday evening and has now started rigging its anchors from the protected area, in the deep waters of the Sulu Sea far from the damaged reef.
According to Evangelista of the Task Force Tubbataha, the anchoring will take some time to assure that it will land at the correct spot not hitting the reef but the sandy bottom.
Under the US Navy’s salvage operations plan, the USS Guardian will be cut in pieces before vertically extracting it from the site. No fuel has leaked since the grounding and all of the approximately 15,000 gallons from the vessel have been safely transferred off the ship.
The complex and methodical salvage operations will last until next month unless weather condition within the Tubbataha reef changes that would delay the plan.
Meanwhile, the PCG continues to conduct an independent inquiry to find out the real circumstances surrounding the grounding of the USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef.
A Maritime Casualty Investigation Team (MCIT) was formed last week in accordance with its Standard Procedures on maritime incidents to gather the physical and documentary evidence needed to establish the circumstances and causes as to why the US Navy vessel strayed into the protected area even after the park rangers manning the reef warned them that they were dangerously treading a sheltered area.
In line with this, the MCIT is now closely working with the US Navy to gather technical data on the maritime incident. The US Navy is conducting their own investigation in Japan where the officers and crews of USS Guardian will be stationed while the inquiry is on-going.
The US government has apologized for the maritime incident and assured that the Philippine government will be compensated accordingly for the damage on the corrals of the Tubbataha Reef. However, more than mere compensation, the US government is committed to infuse funds, equipment and expertise to ensure the restoration, rehabilitation and the long-term conservation and protection of the Tubbataha Reef. Proposals have been made for a team of US experts to help in the assessment of the damage and rehabilitation efforts as well as for the installation of radar and communication equipment to assist Park Rangers and the Philippine Coast Guard.