US vows to provide compensation, restoration efforts for TubbatahaBy Fat Reyes
MANILA, Philippines–The United States (US) government has vowed to provide “appropriate compensation” for the damage its stranded Navy Ship caused to the Tubbataha Reef, saying that it would conduct activities aimed at conservation and restoration of the world heritage site.
In a statement made by the US embassy in Manila Sunday, the office noted the US had expressed its regrets for the damage “caused by the USS Guardian accident,” and that it was “prepared to provide appropriate compensation to the Republic of the Philippines.”
“In addition to compensation, the US government is planning a number of other activities which will underscore its commitment to Tubbataha’s recovery and the protection of the marine resources of the Philippines,” it added.
Latest reports had noted that from an initial estimate of 1,000 square meters, the damaged area has been pegged at 4,000 square meters.
The embassy noted that the US would grant P4.1 million or $100,000 to a Philippine university to support coral restoration research at the reef. It said that the grant would be coursed through the Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP) under the embassy’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office.
It said that in the next two weeks, the embassy would organize a round-table discussion with local coral reef conservation experts to listen to concerns and discuss options for conservation and restoration of the reef.
“Invitees to this discussion will include entities such as USAID, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), relevant Government of the Philippines agencies, and the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO),” it said.
It said that a separate US interdisciplinary scientific team was being formed to “initiate discussions” and coordinate with Philippine government agencies such as the TMO, non-governmental organizations, and Philippine-based marine scientists and experts to “review and assess damage remediation options.”
It said that the US would also offer to fund a “site survey” for proposed improvements to the existing ranger station on Tubbataha Reef.”
“Proposals could include the installation of radar and communications equipment that can assist Park Rangers and Philippine Coast Guard in avoiding collisions and keeping tabs on marine poachers,” it said.
“The US government would also share hydrographic survey data with the Philippines National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to improve cartographic information available on Tubbataha protected area and environs,” it added.
In its statement, the embassy noted that the US recognized biodiversity as a “priority reflected in the Assistance Agreement” between the two countries, and that it “should be a priority under the US Philippines Bilateral Science and Technology Agreement that took effect in October 2012.”
The Tubbataha Reef accident focuses renewed attention on this goal and offers opportunities for future bilateral cooperation in science and technology that reflect our long-standing shared commitment to the protection of the marine resources of the Philippines,” it said.
Latest reports had noted that the SMIT Borneo of SMIT Singapore, one of the two lift cranes commissioned by the US Navy to begin the removal of the grounded minesweeper, arrived at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park on Sunday.
The Guardian ran aground on Jan. 17 while in transit to Indonesia after a port visit at the former US naval base, Subic.
Authorities said that one of the US Navy’s plans was to dismantle the minesweeper and remove it in sections from the marine sanctuary, but a final plan had yet to be approved.
President Benigno Aquino III, meanwhile, had earlier noted that authorities had been tasked to investigate the grounding incident and that the country would hold United States Navy accountable under Philippine laws for the damage caused by the incident.