MANILA, Philippines–The Philippine Coast Guard-led Task Force Tubbataha is not setting a new deadline for the removal of the USS Guardian from the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, according to the PCG spokesperson.
But Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo, also chief of the Coast Guard’s public affairs office, on Monday quoted Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, TFT and PCG-Palawan district head, as having expressed confidence the salvage operation “would be completed as soon as possible.”
“There’s no new timeline and with wind speeds of 11 to 16 knots and waves of up to 1.5 meter, the weather has been favorable to continue the salvage operation,” he pointed out.
Balilo earlier said that while the operation was progressing, the PCG could not discount the possible extension of the March 23 deadline for the removal of the US Navy minesweeper from the reef.
In a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he also disclosed that the US Navy-contracted salvage team was “preparing for the cutting of the ship’s lower deck and bulkhead section.”
“Most of the work is done below deck as the salvage team also prepares for the actual cutting and lifting of the USS Guardian’s superstructure,” Balilo added.
The USS Guardian dismantling operation continued during the weekend with the cutting of the vessel’s engine room and clearing of the lower deck of equipment, loose materials and debris.
Last week, the ship’s four engines, as well as its two diesel generators and fantail cranes, were successfully removed by the lead crane ship Jascon 25 and transferred to the barge Seabridge S-700.
The salvage team has dismantled over 50 percent of the 68-meter ship, which ran aground on the reef on Jan. 17.
The dismantling of the ship began on Feb. 22 but was suspended at least four times due to bad weather.
The PCG search-and-rescue vessel BRP Romblon is closely monitoring the salvage operation.
Seven other ships were in the vicinity: the US Navy vessels Wally Schirra and Safeguard; crane ship SMIT Borneo; tugs Archon Tide and Intrepid; and the tow vessels Vos Hercules and Trabajador 1.