‘Not a penny over $1.4M for Tubbataha damage’

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08:46 AM April 7th, 2013

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By: DJ Yap, April 7th, 2013 08:46 AM

This handout photo taken on January 19, 2013 and released on January 20, 2013 by the Philippine Western Command (WESCOM) shows an aerial shot of US Navy minesweeper, the USS Guardian, as it remains trapped on the Tubbataha reef after it ran aground on the western Philippine island of Palawan. AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Officials of the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) will not ask for more than the $1.4 million (about P60 million) fine slapped on the United States following the grounding of its warship in  Tubbataha Reef.

“[The fine of] $1.4 million is but a slap on the wrist, as the salvage operation has been estimated to cost close to $45 million,” said Tubbataha park superintendent Angelique Songco in a statement.

“However, we respect the rule of law and this is the fine stipulated. The Tubbataha Management Office will not ask for anything more,” she said.

Songco told Agence France-Presse that she is “not worried about criticism (for the small amount).”

“We are not trying to put one over them and we hope they will do the same with us,” she said. “We don’t want to be dishonest. It is just a simple process—measure it correctly and then they pay. That is all. It is very straightforward.”

She said a letter requesting compensation would be sent to the US embassy next week.

The United States has apologized for the mishap and said it would cooperate in addressing the damage.

The commanding officer and three crew members of the USS Guardian were relieved of their duties over the grounding, the US Navy announced last week.

A team of divers and researchers from the TMO and World Wide Fund for Nature–Philippines just finished assessing the damage to the reef caused by the Jan. 17 grounding of the USS Guardian. Tubbataha is a World Heritage Site located in middle of the Sulu Sea.

Salvors finished extricating the last of the 68-meter Guardian on March 30. It had to be dismantled piece by piece so it could be lifted without damaging the reef further.

According to the report of the assessment team, “results indicate the damaged area spans 2,345.67 square meters—smaller than the 4,000 square meters originally estimated by an American team,” WWF-Philippines said in a statement.

Under Republic Act No. 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009, a fine of about $600 or P24,000 per square meter of damaged reef is mandatory.

“Further park rule violations boosted the final total to slightly less than P60 million, or roughly $1.4 million,” the organization said.

WWF-Philippines vice chair and chief executive officer Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said the fine to be paid to TMO should help it build “a significant endowment fund to sustain its operations through the years.”

“The basic issue here is not tourism. It is food security. This fresh infusion of funds will allow TMO to concentrate on putting the money to good use—from building a better Ranger Station to upgrading their capacity to manage the country’s most productive coral reef,” he said.

“Let us settle what must be settled, learn what must be learned, and move forward,” Tan said.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park protects almost 100,000 hectares of high quality marine habitats containing three atolls and a large area of deep sea.

Home to whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse, the park supports more than 350 species of coral and almost 500 species of fish. For this, it has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

The reserve also protects one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region, according to Unesco. With an AFP report

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