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Bad weather stalls Tubbataha salvage operations anew


04:41 AM March 6th, 2013

By: Jerry E. Esplanada, March 6th, 2013 04:41 AM

USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Bad weather has forced a US Navy-contracted salvage team to suspend the dismantling of the USS Guardian, the minesweeper that has been grounded since Jan. 17 at the Tubbataha Reefs in the Sulu Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said yesterday.

Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, the PCG spokesman, said the operation would resume “if the weather at the reef permits.”

In a text message to the Inquirer, he said that “as per weather forecasts, tidal height and wind speeds are expected to increase or worsen.”

Balilo said “the salvage operation stopped at around 4:40 p.m. on Monday shortly after completing the rigging of level 1,” or the Guardian’s aft section.

“This section was originally part of the funnel, which was earlier removed along with the vessel’s mast… the team has yet to schedule the lifting and transfer of the section to one of the barges,” he said.

An undisclosed number of additional salvage personnel, mostly ship cutters, have arrived at the Tubbataha Reefs.

Balilo earlier said that while the dismantling was progressing, the Coast Guard could not discount the possible extension of the March 23 deadline for the removal of the US vessel from the reef.

He pointed out 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.”

Last weekend, the salvage operation continued with the vessel’s bridge deck lifted and transferred to a barge by the Gibraltar-flagged crane ship Jascon 25, the lead vessel tasked with dismantling the Guardian after another crane ship, the SMIT Borneo, failed to anchor near the US vessel.

Meanwhile, Balilo reported that a Chinese cargo ship was “dead in the water” in the vicinity of Tubbataha after it encountered engine trouble.

He identified the vessel as the MV Tai An Hai, a China-flagged bulk carrier.

Citing a report from the PCG Action Center in Manila, he said the PCG station in Puerto Princesa City had dispatched the BRP Pampanga to assist the crew of the Chinese ship.

Built in 1986, the 190-meter vessel “came from Singapore with limestone on board and was bound for Bohol,” according to Balilo.

Initial reports reaching the PCG said the 27,417-ton ship was stranded south of the Tubbataha Reefs and north of Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi.

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