Removal of US Navy ship gets under way at Tubbataha

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03:30 AM February 25th, 2013

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In a photo released by the U.S. Navy, the mine countermeasures ship USS Guardian sits aground in this Jan. 22, 2013 file photo on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea in the Philippines. AP Photo/U.S. Navy. Naval Aircrewman 3rd Class Geoffrey Trudell

MANILA, Philippines—Noting the “very good” weather at Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, the commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday said preliminary work before the actual dismantling of the USS Guardian was under way.

Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena said at least nine vessels, including the PCG search-and-rescue ship BRP Davao del Norte, were at the Tubbataha marine park as the salvage operation was about to start.

The USS Guardian ran aground at the reef, a United Nations World Heritage Site, on Jan. 17 while on its way to Indonesia.

The PCG’s Davao del Norte is tasked with “closely monitoring the salvage operation being undertaken by private contractors” hired by the US Navy, said Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Commander Armand Balilo.

In a text message to the Inquirer, Isorena said the other ships in the vicinity were the US Navy vessels Salvor and Wally Schirra; the Singaporean crane ships Jascon 25, Smit Borneo and Archon Tide; the Malaysian salvage vessel Trabajador 1 with barge S-7000, and the tugboat Intrepid.

Citing a PCG-Palawan station report, he said the Jascon 25 “is positioned about 20 meters from the Guardian.”

Using cranes, the ship will position itself to take machinery and equipment off the US Navy minesweeper. It will also carry some of the equipment needed in the ship-cutting operation.

The chopped-up parts of the Guardian will be transferred to the barge and salvage ships. The US Navy has yet to say where the ship parts will be taken.

On Saturday, “the salvage master conducted a briefing for all concerned aboard the Jascon 25.”

“They discussed the work plan, as well as ways to ensure the safety of the salvage team and the prevention of further damage to the reef,” said Isorena.

The salvage team plans to “put up additional reference beacons and sensors and unload loose ship equipment, personal effects and gym equipment.”

On Saturday, the PCG downplayed concerns that tropical depression “Crising” had aggravated the damage to Tubbataha Reef.

Balilo questioned the claim of militant groups that the extent of the damage at the reef had grown to half a hectare after Crising passed over Palawan.

“The storm did not hit Tubbataha. It passed by Brooke’s Point in Palawan but not directly over Tubbataha,” Balilo said in an interview.

PCG Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, head of Task Force Tubbataha, said there would be a joint assessment made by American and Filipino authorities to determine the extent of the damage to the reef once the Guardian is removed from the site.—With a report from Redempto D. Anda, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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