The US Embassy on Monday said the US Navy had removed all potential environmental hazards, including 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel, from the ship USS Guardian which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reefs on Jan. 17.
In a statement, the embassy said a US Navy-led salvage team had taken out the bulk of the fuel oil and materials that “could pose environmental risks, such as paint, solvents and lubricants” from the mine countermeasures ship.
The diesel fuel had been “safely transferred” to a Malaysian tug-boat, Vos Apollo, that was contracted by the US Navy, and that “controlled de-fueling” operations were completed on Saturday.
“No fuel has leaked since the grounding,” the embassy said.
It said experts were working on a plan to salvage the vessel after reinforcing its hull “with Kevlar lines in an effort to reduce the strain that the ship sustains due to wave action.”
The embassy said that it was awaiting the arrival on Feb. 1 of two heavy lift ship-borne cranes which it had contracted to support the salvage operations.
“The US Navy in the meantime, continues to remove material from the ship, to assess and manage structural issues and to prepare the Guardian to be safely removed, all the while seeking to protect the natural environment of Tubbataha Reef,” it said.
The embassy also said the crew of the Guardian were temporarily transferred to nearby support vessels as a safety precaution and 69 sailors were sent to its base in Sasebo, Japan.
Remaining on the scene near the Tubbataha Reefs in order to work with the recovery team were the Guardian’s commanding officer and other technical experts from among the crew.
The embassy said the US Navy was investigating the incident. “All relevant factors will be looked at during the course of the investigation, and the proximate cause of the incident will be made at a later date,’’ it said.
The ship ran aground while transiting through the Sulu Sea en route to Indonesia after a port call on Puerto Princesa.