The removal of the USS Guardian from the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea may not be completed by March 23 as planned, the Philippine Coast Guard said.
Lt. Cmdr Armand Balilo on Thursday said that while the weather in the reef area has been very good and the ship dismantling operation was progressing, the PCG did not “discount the possibility that the March 23 deadline for the removal of the USS Guardian from Tubbataha Reef may be extended.”
Balilo said that “aside from the changing weather conditions in the Sulu Sea, the salvage team is also considering the structural integrity of the ship, as well as newly discovered obstacles in dismantling the Guardian’s superstructure.” He did not elaborate.
Citing a report from the PCG team monitoring the Tubbataha Reef operation, he said that on Thursday there was very limited crane operations and transfer of equipment from the Guardian to the salvage ships.
“The bulk of the work is on the preparation of levels 1 and 2 for lifting. The initial lifting of level 2 will be made on March 2 while the lifting of level 1 will follow,” he explained.
Balilo added that “additional personnel who specialize in ship cutting will be brought in by SMIT (the salvage firm) for the cutting of the ship’s hull.”
Early this week, the dismantling of the Guardian resumed with the removal of the vessel’s mast and funnel by the crane ship Jascon 25, which the PCG said was the main vessel tasked with dismantling the grounded US Navy ship.
Aside from the Guardian and the Jascon 25, nine other vessels were in the vicinity, either involved in or observing the operations, including the PCG’s search-and-rescue ship, the BRP Pampanga.
The 68-meter US Navy minesweeper ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef, a Unesco-designated World Heritage Site, on Jan. 17 while on its way to Indonesia.