US Navy raps faulty map for hi-tech ship’s grounding


REEFS ON THE ROCKS A diver observes a sleeping shark on a ledge at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Made up of two atolls, Tubbataha’s vertiginous walls are home to 12 species of sharks. Overfished because of the sharks’ valuable fins, Tubbataha offers one of the last guaranteed shark dives in the world. Although protected year-round by armed rangers who are stationed in two-month shifts, the reefs were defenseless against the rude intrusion of a US minesweeper three days ago when it ran aground in the Unesco-named World Heritage Site. YVETTE LEE/CONTRIBUTOR

The United States Navy said a minesweeper that ran aground on a coral reef in the Philippines was using a faulty map that misplaced the location of the marine sanctuary.

The Navy said digital nautical charts contained inaccurate data and may have been a factor in the Guardian’s grounding.

Navigator of the Navy Rear Adm. Jonathan White released precautionary guidance to all Pacific Fleet ships, saying that “initial review of navigation data indicates an error in the location of Tubbataha Reef” in the Philippines.

The US Navy has sent an assessment team that would plan and execute the delicate extraction of the American minesweeper from the Tubbataha Reef with the least damage on the marine sanctuary where it has been trapped since Thursday, the unit’s Japan-based fleet has said.

Strong winds and waves have pushed the ship to be parallel to the reef line, the Inquirer learned on Saturday.

“If you remember the pictures that came out yesterday (Friday), the ship was still perpendicular to the reef line but because of the winds and waves, which are really strong now, the ship moved some 90 degrees and is now parallel to the reef line,” a source from the military told the Inquirer.


Not sinking

The source, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to give details to the media, denied news reports that the ship was sinking. “It couldn’t really sink because there’s a reef beneath it,” he said.

Three ships from the Philippine Navy have been deployed as of Saturday morning to the vicinity of the Tubbataha Reef for on-site monitoring and to provide assistance to the marooned ship.

“Our ships are outside the protected area,” said Maj. Oliver Banaria, commander of the military’s Western Command Civil Relations Group.

Banaria said a Philippine Air Force (PAF) Nomad aircraft was deployed Saturday morning to the site for an aerial survey of the USS Guardian and “further assess the situation.”

“The recovery of the ship has not begun yet,” Banaria said.

The forward-deployed US Navy’s 7th Fleet also admitted that the grounding of the 68-meter USS Guardian could have damaged the reef just as the incident spurred a demand among concerned Philippine groups for US accountability over the destruction of what is considered a national treasure.

“Without speculating about this particular case, there are potential risks of damage from physical contact between the ship and the reef or sea floor, and from the effects of material from the ship being introduced into the environment,” Lt. Brian Wierzbicki, a public affairs officer of the 7th Fleet, told the Inquirer.

“We won’t know more until the assessment team arrives on scene,” he said in an e-mail response sent from the fleet’s base in Yokosuka, Japan.

All 79 officers and crew of the US Navy minesweeper stuck on a coral reef in central Philippines have left the ship two days after efforts to free the vessel failed, the Navy said on Saturday.

The US Navy’s 7th Fleet earlier on Friday said 72 of the crew of the USS Guardian were transferred for safety reasons to a military support vessel and a naval survey ship. The Navy said in a statement hours later that all 79 crew members, including the commanding and the executive officers, had left the stricken ship.

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship was en route to its next port call following a routine stop in the Philippines when it grazed the reef and got stuck some 128 kilometers off Palawan before dawn on Thursday.

The US Navy said the ship was not leaking oil. An official of the Tubbataha marine park earlier said the ship was lying on around 10 meters of coral.

Subic, Puerto Princesa

The ship had arrived at the former US naval base on Subic Bay in Olongapo City on Jan. 13 for a routine resupply, refueling and rest and recreation stop and a quick visit to Puerto Princesa before sailing off to its next destination.

Wierzbicki said the Navy was still investigating how the ship, known to be equipped with top-of-the-line navigational equipment, ran aground the reef in the vast Sulu Sea.

“The Navy recognizes that Tubbataha Reef is a unique and treasured environment. The cause of this incident will be thoroughly investigated,” said Wierzbicki when asked for comment on the concern of environment groups on the protected coral reef, designated by the Unesco as a World Heritage Site.

“The full extent of any damage to the reef won’t be determined until the ship is freed from the reef,” Wierzbicki said.

The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines said that according to an initial visual inspection, the 68-m-long, 1,300-ton Guardian damaged at least 10 m  of the reef. Aerial photographs provided by the Philippine military showed the ship’s bow sitting atop corals in shallow turquoise waters. The stern was floating in the deep blue waters.

Angelique Songco, head of the government’s Protected Area Management Board, said it was unclear how much of the reef was damaged. She said the government imposes a fine of about $300 per square meter of damaged coral.

In 2005, the environmental group Greenpeace was fined almost $7,000 after its flagship struck a reef in the same area.

Songco said that park rangers were not allowed to board the ship for inspection and were told to contact the US Embassy in Manila.

Philippine military spokesperson Banaria said the US Navy did not request assistance from the Philippines.

US Navy ships have stepped up visits to Philippine ports for refueling, rest and recreation, plus joint military exercises as a result of a redeployment of US forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Philippines, a US defense treaty ally, has been entangled in a territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.

The 7th Fleet and the US Embassy in Manila said separately that initial attempts to release the Guardian had been unsuccessful. Wierzbicki said the US Navy’s assessment team, dispatched from Puerto Princesa on Friday, would “assess conditions, assist in salvage operations and develop a recovery plan.”

Workable plan

“Their focus will be to get on board, get a workable plan in place and work to extract Guardian from the reef with as little damage as possible,” Wierzbicki said.

In a separate statement, US 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Scott Swift said other support vessels had arrived on scene.

“7th Fleet ships remain on scene and essential Guardian Sailors will continue conducting survey operations on board the ship as needed until she is recovered. Several support vessels have arrived and all steps are being taken to minimize environmental effects while ensuring the crew’s continued safety,” Swift said.

Wierzbicki said 72 of the Guardian’s crew were evacuated on Friday and transferred to MV C-Champion, a Military Sealift Command chartered ship, for their safety.

The embassy said a small team of engineering and bridge personnel will remain aboard the Guardian to work with the assessment team “in an attempt to free Guardian with minimal environmental impact.”

“The remaining seven sailors, which include the commanding officer and executive officer, will also be transferred if conditions become unsafe,” the embassy said.

The embassy said US authorities “are in close communication” with their Philippine counterparts, including the Tubbataha Management Office. With a report from AP

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  • zdrx

    maybe that USN ship’s sonars and maps were made in china. LOL.. i wonder why our PN 50 y.o  ships criscrossing  our reef laden seas 24/7…and using obsolete nav equipment, did not ran aground in our seas.

  • Netizen

    All their excuses were unbelievable!!!…USS Guardian is a minesweeper, with very sofhisticated sonar and GPS mapping/navigation system guided by Satellite communications in real time… they are always the advance party of the seven fleet and in the forefront of any deployment and battles…there’s a deeper reason why they are there in Tubbataha reef…

  • Dennis Pettersson

    So, and who made the charts?
    If it’s the US Navy, the US Navy is still responsible for the accident.
    If not, do the biggest military power in the world rely on recreational charts made by foreign nations?

  • Pedro

    Even the most sophisticated equipment can fail. No machine or equipment is FAIL SAFE. That is why there is always an actual chart for back up. And mind you, when a chart is created, it is a creation by the experts of the souvereign country. In this case, the Philippines. And if what they provided publicly is erroneous, then what is placed in the computer program will also be erroneous. As simple as that.

    • new_filipino

      US publishes its own charts; it conducts its own navigational surveys. the naval standard operating procedure is to enter your track which are your turn points and distances to the navigation computer then follow the track until you reach your destination- it is identical to using global position system (GPS). the fail safe of the operating procedure is that every vessel has to carry its own paper chart which gets manually updated or plotted every 15 minutes by the quartermaster of the watch on the ship’s bridge- this ensures that in an event the naval computer fails or in error, the ship can still steer its way to the seas. the rule of thumb is if there is any contradiction between the naval computer and the paper chart, the paper chart supersedes the computer because prior to using the chart, any changes are entered and signed by the commanding officer of the ship. as to why the ship is 8-mile off course without being noticed by the watch team ( the officer of the deck, conning officer and the quartermaster of the watch), i personally couldn’t tell; maybe the entire watch team is sleeping; maybe the chart has not been corrected; maybe the watch team is not proficient to perform the job or just got qualified; in my own experience, this area of water is difficult to navigate because of several reefs and it is seldom surveyed for the purpose of safe navigation. while many criticize the US Navy for this accident, it is a known fact that chinese poachers, as well as koreans and japanese, chinese spy ships are always in the area with grave intention to destroy this sanctuary.

  • mon key

    if the US of A can hunt down Bin Laden’s abode, then the US of A can also determine if there is a reef along the path of it’s ships. it is a simple as that. refer to OCAMs RAZOR for guidance. therefore, the captain of that ship was . . . :Lazy or what? he deserves to be promoted to a desk job, and US of A SHOULD pay for damages. no if’s . . . no buts. JUST PAY! AND GET THE HELL OUT!

  • Pakinaskungtaeb

    Her position (USS Guardian) above the huge rock is very much alike the Super Ferry Vessel that ran aground near Ditaytayan Island in Coron, Palawan almost two years ago.  Don’t trust your maps and high tech equipment in this hard to navigate areas.  If you run your speed, you’ll bump nature’s road sign “Slow Down”.  

  • joboni96

    kompiskahin na yang barko na yan
    tulad sa mga intsik switik fishermen

    ng may magamit pang depensa sa mga intsik switik
    courtesy of imperialist u.s.

    ikulong na rin mga ulupong

    another imperialist psywar operation
    to break down pilipino resistance to recolonization

    the recovered drone was another similar psywar operation of the imperialist


    mapapahamak tayo sa kabobohan ng u.s. navy

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