Palace OKs $1.4-M fine on US Navy for ship grounding at Tubbataha Reef

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11:26 PM April 7th, 2013

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By: TJ Burgonio, April 7th, 2013 11:26 PM

MANILA, Philippines—Ruling out any diplomatic protest, Malacañang expressed satisfaction with the $1.4-million or P60-million assessed fine on the US Navy whose ship grazed the Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Sunday the fine assessed by the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) on the US Navy was in compliance with Republic Act 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009.

“The amount as assessed by the Tubbataha Management Office is in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act 10067 which serves as the basis for the fine,” Valte said in a text message.

A team of divers and researchers from the TMO and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines measured the damaged area at 2,345.67 square meters, smaller than the 4,000 square meters estimated by an American team.

Under the law, a fine of $600 or P24,000 per square meter of damaged reef is mandatory, and together with further park rule violations, this added up to $1.4 million.

The fine paled in comparison with the estimated $45-million salvage operation, and was but a “slap on the wrist,” observed Tubbataha park superintendent Angelique Songco, who said the letter requesting compensation would be forwarded to the US Embassy this week.

But WWF-Philippines vice chairman and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said the fine should help the TMO “build a significant endowment fund to sustain its operations through the years.”

Salvors extricated the last major section of the 68-meter Guardian, which was cut into pieces to avoid further damage to the reef, on March 30.

Valte ruled out the filing of a diplomatic protest against the United States over the grounding of the minesweeper in the World Heritage Site.

“A diplomatic protest may be unnecessary at this point given that the United States has been cooperating with our maritime investigation and has committed to the compensation and rehabilitation of the reef,” she said.

The US Navy has relieved USS Guardian commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, as well as the executive officer and navigator, the assistant navigator, and the officer of the deck.

All four were reassigned to Expeditionary Strike Group 7 headquarters in Sasebo, Japan.

The US warship hit the upper side of the South Atoll, one of the two main atolls comprising the Tubbataha Reef, at dawn of January 17, while en route to Indonesia.

The ship is part of the US naval fleet stationed in Japan, which docked at the former American naval base in Subic Bay for routine refueling, resupply and rest and recreation.

It was scheduled to make a brief stop at Puerto Princesa before heading off to its next port call in India when it grazed the reef and got stuck 128 kilometers off Palawan.

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