MANILA, Philippines—One of the two lift cranes commissioned by the US Navy has arrived at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park to begin the removal of a grounded US minesweeper, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
The SMIT Borneo of SMIT Singapore Pte Ltd. arrived at the marine park on
Naval salvage experts have determined that towing the $277-million USS Guardian would cause more damage to the reef and to its hull.
The Guardian ran aground on Jan. 17 while in transit to Indonesia after a port visit at the former US naval base, Subic. Some 15,000 gallons of fuel had been taken off the ship.
The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB), meanwhile, has rejected the assessment of the damage made by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the US Navy.
Palawan Gov. Abraham Kahlil Mitra said the TPAMB met Sunday and agreed to file a letter of complaint in connection with the assessment of the damage “without a Philippine representative as agreed previously.”
Mitra, co-chairman of TPAMB, said the board would conduct its own assessment and reject the DFA “offer or move” to mediate with the US Navy.
From an initial estimate of 1,000 square meters, the damaged area has been pegged at 4,000 square meters, based on recent inspection.
“We understand the DFA is just doing its job but the other camp has not even communicated nor recognized the Philippine ambassador. Why should we make the first move when we are the aggrieved party?” said Mitra in a phone interview.
Meanwhile, President Aquino is agreeable to the US Navy’s plan to dismantle the 23-year-old minesweeper and remove it in sections from the marine sanctuary, Transportation Secretary Joseph E. A. Abaya said Sunday.
“It seems like the most logical thing to do, given the crack and the fact that it’s stuck 30 meters into the reef. Lifting it out is risky. We don’t mind it being cut up into pieces but we have to make sure no material will fall into sea once it’s lifted up,” Abaya said by phone.
The final approval by the President, however, would come only after the US Navy has presented the final salvage plan pending the arrival of two ships from Singapore, Abaya said.