MANILA, Philippines—The United States Navy has presented to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) its USS Guardian “dismantling plan” that will utilize floating cranes in what it calls a “complex operation” to minimize damage to the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.
Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, the PCG spokesperson, however, told the Philippines they have to get word from the US Navy when the actual ship dismantling operation would start.
In a text message, Balilo said on Monday “there’s no information yet on the exact date of the ship-breaking.”
But he assured PCG personnel “will assist the US Navy personnel (involved in the operation).”
Coast Guard vessels will also “conduct patrols to secure the Tubbataha Reef area while the operation is underway,” Balilo added.
Reports reaching the PCG headquarters in Manila said the SMIT Borneo of SMIT Singapore Pte. Ltd., the floating crane contracted by the US Navy to remove the grounded Guardian, has arrived at the reef.
US naval salvage experts have assessed that attempts to remove the Guardian intact, such as towing or pulling it off the reef, could cause more damage to the reef and the ship’s hull and most likely result in the vessel breaking up or sinking.
The Guardian ran aground on Jan. 17, while transiting to Indonesia after a port visit at the former US naval base in Subic, Zambales.
On Jan. 31, the US Pacific Fleet said the ship dismantling operation “will take more than one month.”
In a statement, the Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based command said the US Navy “has presented a dismantling plan to the Philippine Coast Guard that maintains the floating cranes necessary for this operation in deeper waters in order to minimize coral damage to the Tubbataha Reef.”
“We continue to work closely at all levels with the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy and government officials, and we are grateful for the support we have received to remove the Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” said Capt. Daryn James, US Pacific Fleet spokesman.
According to James, the Guardian is “badly damaged and with the deteriorating integrity of the ship, the weight involved and where it is grounded on the reef, dismantling in sections is the only supportable option.”
“We have the right team of experienced professionals to conduct this complex operation and to ensure that it is done safely while minimizing damage to the surrounding marine environment,” he said.
James also reported that “no fuel has leaked since the grounding and all of the approximately 15,000 gallons aboard the Guardian were safely transferred off the ship during the two days of controlled defueling operations last week.”
“Since the Guardian’s grounding, the Navy has been working meticulously to salvage any reusable equipment, retrieved the crew’s personal effects and remove any potentially harmful materials, including petroleum-based products and human waste water,” he said.
Three other US Navy vessels – the USS Mustin, USNS Bowditch and USNS Salvor – and two other ships, the MV Trabajador and the Malaysian tug VOS Apolo “remain on the scene supporting the salvage operation,” James added.