US Navy turns over ship’s navigational charts, papers to PH probersBy Jerry E. Esplanada, Tarra Qusimundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The US Navy has turned over digital navigation maps and other important documents to Philippine investigators who are looking into the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday the Philippine Maritime Casualty Investigating Team (MCIT) “received on April 4 data and other materials relevant to its investigation of the grounding” of the US Navy minesweeper despite its advanced navigational equipment.
In a statement, the DFA said the digital investigation charts and other relevant documents were turned over by the US Navy to the MCIT.
“These maps and documents are important to our independent investigation of what caused the grounding of the USS Guardian,” the DFA said.
The DFA said the materials would also help identify measures that should be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.
The US Navy handed over the documents to the MCIT during the team’s visit to Japan last week. They flew there to meet with their counterpart US investigators in lieu of one-on-one interviews with the Guardian’s crew, which the US sailors have refused.
“The MCIT, as part of its investigation, posed technical and substantive queries relevant to our independent investigation. US Navy officials have cooperated and the MCIT will process and assess the materials turned over to us and other information we obtained,” it added, quoting DFA Assistant Secretary Gilbert Asuque.
Asuque said US Navy officials also answered the Philippine safety inquiry team’s questions about the incident, including technical matters pertaining to the Guardian.
The MCIT’s meetings with US Navy officers in Japan followed the US Pacific Fleet’s announcement on April 3 that it had relieved four of the Guardian’s officers and crew for failing to comply with the US Navy’s standard navigational procedures.
Faulty navigational equipment is believed to have caused the Guardian’s grounding at the marine sanctuary just as it sailed out of the Philippines following a routine port call at the Subic Bay Freeport in Olongapo City.
The US has repeatedly promised to compensate the Philippines for its ship’s damage to what is considered a national treasure.
Last week, the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) said the Philippines would ask the US to pay $1.4 million (about P60 million) in compensation for the damage caused by the Guardian to the reef.
The amount is based on studies by Philippine agencies, including the Philippine Coast Guard that found the ship damaged at least 2,345 square meters of the reef.
The grounded ship, which had to be dismantled piece by piece, was finally removed from the reef on March 30.
Under Republic Act No. 10067, or the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park Act of 2009, a fine of about $600, or P24,000, per square meter of damaged reef is mandatory.
The TMO, however, said “further park rule violations boosted the final total to about $1.4 million, or roughly P60 million.
Some senators, however, think the amount is paltry.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature-Philippines, however, said Monday that while it was paltry to some, the $1.4-million fine was proof that the Philippines enforces its laws on violators.
Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, WWF-Philippines vice chairman and CEO, said the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board had “no choice” but to impose the fine as specified by law.
“No choice. That’s what is specified by the law,” Tan said by phone, referring to RA 10067. “We have no mandate to change it. If we change it, we can be questioned.”
The TMO was set to forward the notice of violation and payment of the fine to the US Embassy in Manila on Monday, officials said—With a report from TJ Burgonio