Dismantling of US warship resumes

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06:57 PM March 7th, 2013

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By: Jerry E. Esplanada, March 7th, 2013 06:57 PM

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 FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—A salvage team contracted by the US Navy resumed the dismantling of the USS Guardian after the weather cleared in the Sulu Sea Thursday afternoon, successfully lifting the minesweeper’s aft section and transferring it to a crane ship, the Philippine Coast Guard said.

PCG spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Armand Balilo  said in a text message to the Inquirer that from the crane ship Jascon 25, the aft section of the minesweeper was to be moved shortly afterward to the  Seabridge.

Balilo said the salvage operations, suspended because of bad weather on Tuesday, resumed immediately after the weather cleared Thursday afternoon around the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, where the US Navy minesweeper ran aground last Jan. 17.

The salvage crew had completed the rigging of the aft section or Level 1 on Tuesday afternoon. Level 1 was originally a part of the Guardian’s funnel, which was earlier removed along with the vessel’s mast.

Balilo told the Inquirer earlier Thursday that salvage team planned to now work “even at night to make up for the lost time.”

“The salvage team has requested for the delivery of various lighting equipment to be installed aboard the USS Guardian so they could work even at night,” he said.

Balilo, chief of the PCG public affairs office, said that although the weather on Thursday morning was better than in previous days, sea conditions posed a danger to the salvage personnel.

Citing a report from Commodore Efren Evangelista, PCG-Palawan district commander, Balilo said the waves in the reef area Thursday morning were up to two meters high and prevailing winds had speeds of up to 25 knots.

“The team won’t take the risk of resuming work if weather conditions are still unfavorable, but once they improve, salvage personnel will try to work 24/7 to make up for the lost time,” he quoted Evangelista as saying.

The USS Guardian ran aground on the reef on Jan. 17. Salvage work began on February 22 but was suspended twice last week and again two days ago.

Last weekend, the vessel’s bridge deck was lifted and transferred to the barge Seabridge S-700 by the crane ship Jascon 25, the lead vessel tasked with dismantling the Guardian.

Seven other ships, including the PCG search-and-rescue vessel BRP Romblon, are in the vicinity. The other ships are the US Navy ship Wally Schirra, USS Salvor, the crane ship SMIT Borneo, the tugs Archon Tide and Intrepid, and the Malaysian salvage ship Trabajador 1.

The 35-meter Romblon (SAR 3503), commissioned in 2003, is tasked by the Coast Guard to closely monitor the salvage operations. It replaced the BRP Pampanga, which early this week was dispatched by the PCG to assist the crew of the MV Tan An Hai after the Chinese cargo ship encountered engine trouble in the vicinity of Tubbataha Reef.

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