MANILA, Philippines – Tubbataha Reef Management Office divers, not their counterparts from the Philippine Coast Guard, will make the “final assessment” of the damage left by the USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, the PCG spokesman told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Lt. Commander Armand Balilo on Monday, however, said they were “willing to assist the TRMO conduct the reef damage assessment operation by providing resources like ships and rubber boats.”
On January 22, five days after the US Navy minesweeper got stuck on the reef, 14 Coast Guard divers checked out the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Office’s World Heritage Site.
After completing their mission, the PCG divers reported that the damage caused by the USS Guardian’s grounding had reached 1,500 to 1,600 square meters, up from more or less 1,000 square meters two weeks earlier.
Balilo earlier said Coast Guard divers would make a final assessment of the American vessel’s damage to the reef.
On Monday, he said they were leaving it up to TRMO personnel.
The Paris-based UNESCO had expressed willingness to send a “team of experts” to assess the damage on the Tubbataha reef.
However, the Task Force Tubbataha, which groups both the PCG and the TRMO, among others, has yet to take up the UNESCO offer.
Meanwhile, the manual cleanup of the debris from the ship grounding site is expected to be completed on Tuesday.
The reef damage assessment “will start as soon as the cleanup operation wraps up,” according to Balilo.
The US Navy-contracted salvage team removed the USS Guardian’s stern, the vessel’s last remaining section, early Saturday afternoon.
The cut sections of the 68-meter ship were taken to the barge Seabridge S-700, which would bring them to an undisclosed US military facility in Japan.
The ship hit the upper side of the South Atoll, of the main atolls comprising the Tubbataha Reef, at dawn on January 17 while on its way to Indonesia.
Bad weather had delayed at least four times the salvage operations, which began on February 22.