MANILA, Philippines—Plans to remove the stranded American minesweeper USS Guardian from the Tubbataha Reef are expected to be finalized Saturday, with the private Singaporean salvage company instructed to prioritize minimizing further environmental damage.
The Department of Transportation and Communications said Task Force Tubbataha was working closely with the US Navy and SMIT Singapore Pte Ltd, which are both sending several vessels to help in the delicate operation.
The removal of the ship, however, is not expected to be done until January 30, when all vessels involved in the operation are scheduled to arrive at the site.
“Part of the salvage plan is to use a crane with high lifting capacity for the vertical removal of the stranded ship instead of just dragging it to avoid incurring more damage to the reef,” Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya said in a statement.
The DOTC said the US Navy would send a salvage vessel, the USNS Salvor, to the Sulu Sea on Saturday to aid in the removal.
SMIT Singapore, the company hired by the US Navy to lead the operation, would send SMIT Cyclone and SMIT Borneo. Both vessels are expected to arrive on January 30.
“They [US Navy, Philippine Navy and salvage company from Singapore] continued to secure top side of the ship, removed all small items and secured other items that were left behind,” Philippine Coast Guard commandant Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena was quoted by the DOTC as saying.
Isorena said the removal of small items from the stranded ship was delayed for several hours from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Thursday due to erratic weather conditions.
US Navy personnel started to transfer USS Guardian items and its crew’s personal effects to another US Navy ship, USNS Mustin.
Another ship, Vos Apollo, was able to get into position and conducted partial defueling of the USS Guardian.
The stranded ship’s fuel tank was drained at a rate of 80 gallons per minute. It will take three defueling tanks to drain the USS Guardian. The DOTC said all salvage operations were still at the mercy of sea and weather conditions.
Earlier, the government’s inspection team assessed that approximately 1,000 square meters of corals were severely damaged due to the incident.