MANILA, Philippines—The US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian, which is stuck in the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan, will be “chopped up” beginning Monday, a ranking Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officer said on Saturday.
PCG Palawan District commander Commodore Enrico Evangelista said the crane ship MT Jascon 25 was expected to arrive at 11 p.m. Saturday while salvaging operations for the Guardian would begin Monday.
“For the past month, we prepared the USS Guardian for removal and the best way to remove (it) is through cutting,” Evangelista said in an interview.
“We have already removed the things that can be removed so now (the ship) is ready for removal. We will begin cutting (tomorrow),” he added.
Evangelista said they removed “50-caliber machine guns, small guns and ammunition but no missiles.”
The United States earlier hired the services of salvaging ships MT Trabajador 1 of Malayan Towage and Salvaging Corp. and the Vos Apollo of a Malaysian company based in Singapore. The US Navy’s USNS Salvor and the PCG’s BRP Romblon are also at the site.
Evangelita said the chopped up parts of the ship would be placed on the Vos Apollo and transferred to a barge from Subic Bay.
“This is a warship of the US Navy so they will determine where it will be disposed. I still don’t know what they intend to do with it. The ship may have a design that is a trade secret,” he said.
He said that the Philippine government no longer needed the ship parts in its investigation into the grounding incident.
In Baguio City, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya on Saturday ruled out the possibility of sending the crew of the USS Guardian to jail for running aground on Tubbataha Reef.
“It becomes tricky in that respect,” Abaya told reporters when asked if the US Navy personnel could be imprisoned for destroying the coral at Tubbataha as provided in Republic Act No. 10067, the law that established the Tubbataha Reef National Park.
Abaya said it was accepted in the general practice of international law that “men of war, foreign naval vessels enjoy immunity, especially if it is in the line of duty.”
“So that has been practiced nationwide, so it would be difficult on that part,” Abaya said on the sidelines of the Philippine Military Academy homecoming in Fort del Pilar. Abaya is a member of PMA Class ’88.
Nonetheless, Abaya said the US Navy would still be sanctioned for the damage its minesweeper caused to the reef that has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.
The USS Guardian, which ran aground at Tubbataha on Jan. 17, destroyed some 4,000 square meters of coral.
But Abaya said the overall damage to the reef had yet to be “assessed” because the ship was still stuck there.
The only way to have an “accurate picture” of the damage is if the ship is removed, he said. With a report from Nikko Dizon