‘Crising’ stalls Tubbataha salvage

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The USS Guardian, after it ran aground in Tubbataha Reefs is pictured on Jan. 17, 2013, by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command. The salvage operation for the US Navy minesweeper suffered another setback after tropical depression “Crising” struck parts of Mindanao on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, a Philippine Coast Guard officer said. AP

MANILA, Philippines—The salvage operation for the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian, which has been stuck in the Tubbataha Reefs off Palawan for over a month, suffered another setback after tropical depression “Crising” struck parts of Mindanao on Tuesday, a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officer said.

PCG Palawan district commander Commodore Enrico Evangelista said the operation was suspended until the weather improved.

“The plan for tomorrow is to stand down and wait for the weather to settle,” he said in a text message to reporters.

“The weather in the area has slightly worsened, with waves up to two meters in height and overcast skies with a light drizzle,” said Evangelista in another text message.

He said the MT Jascon 25, the crane ship that will lift the Guardian in pieces off the reef, remained in the area.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Jascon had maneuvered to as close as 500 meters from the Guardian, he said.

“The crane ship has begun positioning itself,” Evangelista said.

He said the crane ship was set up around 10 meters from the edge of the reef to avoid causing further damage to the coral.

In a phone interview earlier in the day, Evangelista said he was confident the Jascon could withstand extreme weather conditions given its safety features and dynamic positioning capability.

The assessment team, however, decided to stop the salvage operation for safety reasons.

“[The salvors] know very well how to handle the situation. They know when to stop if they think the condition is unsafe,” he said.

The United States 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 Guardian 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.

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