MANILA, Philippines—The salvage team working on the USS Guardian, which ran aground in Tubbataha Reef, removed the warship’s last remaining section early Saturday afternoon after being stuck on the Unesco World Heritage site for more than 10 weeks, a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) official said.
PCG Palawan District chief Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista said the stern of the 68-meter US mine countermeasures ship was lifted off the reef at around 2 p.m.
“Our next target is to continue the manual cleanup of the debris from the grounding site,” said Evangelista, adding that the clean-up operations is expected to be wrapped up by Tuesday.
The US warship hit the upper side of the South Atoll, one of the two main atolls comprising the Tubbataha Reefs, at dawn on Jan. 17 while it was on its way to Indonesia.
The incident sparked widespread condemnation across the country, which said would impose fines.
The US government has apologized for the accident, which it initially blamed on faulty maps.
Bad weather had earlier delayed the recovery operations but once the skies cleared, a salvage ship used a huge crane to lift the bow, the deck, the funnel and other pieces of the ship off the reef.
To lift off the stern, the vessel was sliced into portions for easier removal, Philippine coast guard spokesperson Lt. Greanata Jude said Saturday.
“The salvage ship will still remain in the area. After the lifting, they will clear the area of debris. It will take three days maximum,” Jude told AFP.
Due to fears that towing it to deeper waters would inflict more damage on the reef, the US government agreed to scrap and dismantle the Guardian, which was worth about $277 million.
Evangelista, head of the task force that oversees the salvage operations, said the team had worked throughout the Holy Week to remove the four sections of the warship’s wooden hull which included its bow, auxiliary machine room, main machine room (MMR) and the stern.
“The MMR was lifted yesterday, so the last remaining major part was its stern section,” Evangelista said.
“The salvors would still have to clean up and remove the debris from the vessel. The cleanup might last until April 2,” he added.
The cut sections of the ship were taken to the barge S-7,000, which would bring them to a US facility in Japan.
Evangelista said that after the cleanup, Filipino and American experts would conduct a joint assessment at the site to determine the extent of the damage on the Reef, known for its rich marine life.
He said the assessment team would include marine biologists from the United States and scientists and representatives from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the University of the Philippines, the Department of Science and Technology, the Tubbataha Management Office and the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board.
Evangelista added that the assessment team would provide recommendations on how the damaged portions of the reef could be rehabilitated.
Under Philippine law, ships that run aground on Tubbataha are fined P24,000 for every square meter of damaged reef, said Tubbataha Reef marine park superintendent Angelique Songco. With a report from AFP