Palace confirms stranding of US minesweeper in TubbatahaBy Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Friday confirmed that the US Navy warship, USS Guardian, that ran aground on Tubattaha Reef had come from Subic Bay for a “regular port call,” but the Palace was shunning any discussion this early on seeking indemnity from Washington for coral damage.
“We will see. We don’t want to make any speculations yet at this point. We want to proceed where everything has been thoroughly established before we make any further comment on this matter,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte at a Palace briefing.
But Valte emphasized that the government was wary, too, of the extent of coral damage wrought on the protected marine are and one of the world’s best dive sites when the 68-meter minesweeper grazed the reefs and got stuck.
No one among the 80 US sailors has been injured in the grounding.
“But at least for now our concern is to make sure that there is very minimal damage. I am not quite sure if it is still there. So, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense and other agency are coordinating with the US embassy here in Manila just to make sure that it (ship) is extracted the soonest possible time … to avoid further injury to one of our national treasures,” said Valte.
She also dissuaded the media from treating this as an offshoot of the increased American presence in the country following the new US policy to pivot its forces to the Asian region, which it calls as West Pacific, amid the rising political and military power of China.
“Perhaps at this point (it is) not healthy to speculate. Let’s wait for what the other statements will be,” she said.
She said that the ship that ran aground was coming from “a simple port call.”
“It was en route from Subic for a regular port call. As to the others, I will not be in a position to give you the details of that,” said Valte, but declined to say whether the ship was participating in joint exercises with US and Philippine troops.
“We imagine that the other agencies will be launching their own investigation on how and why the ship ended running aground,” she said.
“Everybody is working to extricate the minesweeper as quickly as possible. We can hold off on all the other speculations first at this point before we are fully assessed of the extent of the situation,” she added.